While it had many similarities to past Asian Nights held at Whittier College, this year’s 30th annual Asian Night held Saturday, April 9 had one strikingly different detail that was neither found on stage nor on a plate. Rather it was found in little red envelopes, a Chinese and East Asian custom, which held monetary donations from Asian Night attendees for Japan’s earthquake and tsunami relief. The night’s donations from red envelopes, a silent auction, a 50/50 raffle and a paper crane booth totaled over $600, more than what the Asian Student Association (ASA) has collected in the past several years.
“I think we outdid ourselves,” ASA President senior Allyson Yuen said. “We tried really hard to raise money for our charity this year, which was focused on Japan relief, and I was really surprised by the generosity. Many just wanted to donate and contribute to the cause. It was really heartwarming to see.”
For the 30th anniversary event, ASA continued their multi-year tradition of cultural display featuring a combination of student and professional performances at the Ruth B. Shannon Center. New additions to this year’s event included solo instrumental performances of the Indian sitar and the Japanese koto, which were brought to Asian Night from the event’s key planner junior Andrew Kim. These stringed instruments offered audience members another aspect of music from Asia besides the popular Japanese taiko drummers invited to the event every year.
Kim and senior Mark Juaton also showed off their vocals, each singing a slow, passion-filled solo in Korean and Tagalog, respectively. Throughout the night, a range of student-choreographed dances were featured including two hip-shaking belly dances, an Indian dance number from Partnership for Appreciation, Respect, and Interest in the Values, Arts and Realities of India members, a Hawaiian hula and an energetic hip-hop medley by the Whittier College Dance Team.
Attendees also saw traditional dances by the Jung Im Lee Korean Dance Academy including a slow but graceful crane dance, where women dressed in white robes and tall, wide-brim black hats imitated the careful steps and wide wing movements of cranes. The other Korean dance consisted of a younger and livelier group of girls dressed in bright robes of pink, green and yellow who dazzled the crowd with the quick spinning and coordinated shapes and waves of a traditional fan dance.
In the field of martial arts, an audience favorite was a tae kwan do demonstration by Victory Tae Kwon Do. A range of youth and young adults sequentially kicked and broke multiple wooden boards, leaving the theater smelling like burning wood by the end of the act. The demonstration concluded with a solo performance set to the tune of Michael Jackson and featured the nunchuck swinging, head bobbing, smooth dancing and high board-breaking kicks of a skinny young boy sporting a four-inch Afro.
Sophomore Joseph Larrea, an English and Chinese double major played host for the night, joined occasionally by other ASA members. Whether pointing out the exits in the theater, quizzing senior Dan Neverisky about his Indian cow knowledge or fumbling over the forgotten announcement of raffle ticket winners, Larrea guided the audience throughout the varying lineup of Asian performances serving up an entertaining and informative mesh of cultural knowledge delivered with a natural ease and witty, dry humor.
Prior to the two-hour-long performance, audience members explored the culture of taste and sampled an Asian-inspired dinner at the Whittier College Campus Inn consisting of Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese and Hawaiian food.
“I love this,” Juaton said about his mixed plate of food. “It’s cross-cultural with a culture.”
While offering a variety of foods for guests, one of the main differences in this year’s dinner was that it was not fully catered by local Asian restaurants as it had been done in previous years.
This year’s selection was partially catered by local food vendors and Whittier College’s Bon Appetit. While the debate over taste and authenticity of the food items can be left to subjective tasters, some diners found their spring rolls to be excessively soggy and their orange chicken lacking in chicken, which brings the question of food quality and cultural significance at this and similar events.
While the 30th year of Asian Night did not display any extra bang or celebration for the anniversary, Asian Night, which was first held in 1981 has evolved from its initial potluck style meal and a presentation of student talents in water color painting, calligraphy, acupuncture and costume. With a date for the 31st Asian Night already set in 2012, the current and four-time winner of Outstanding Event at Whittier College may continue to share bits of Asian culture for years to come.