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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

BAASA launches heritage month ‘CelebrAsian’

Published: March 11, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

celebrasian Members of the Chinese Cultural Club perform Harlem Yu’s “Qing Fei De Yi” while simultaneously acting out the lyrics on stage as part of the opening ceremony for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
photo by lien phung/the hoot

Representatives from various Asian groups on campus gathered on Sunday for the opening ceremony marking Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), which they humorously termed a “CelebrAsian.”

APAHM celebrates the past and present accomplishments of Asian Americans and also provides a time for reflection on the discrimination they have historically encountered in America.

APAHM is officially held nationwide in May, the month which marks both the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in 1843 and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad—constructed largely through the use of Chinese immigrant labor—in 1869.

However, the Brandeis Asian American Student Association (BAASA), which hosts various APAHM events on campus, elected to move the celebration earlier in order to ensure that students would have plenty of time to study for finals because, as one emcee noted, “that’s what Asians do in college.”

Genki Spark, a Boston-based Japanese taiko drumming ensemble, served as the ceremony’s opening act and were easily among the highlights of the night. “Genki” literally means happy in Japanese, and the group certainly never wavered in their enthusiasm and cheerfulness. After their initial transfixing performance, they allowed eight members of the audience to attempt playing the drums. The group—the only women’s taiko drumming ensemble in the country—proved a hit with those in attendance.

Another highlight of the night was a set list performed by emcee DANakaDAN of the group afterschoolspecial, an alternative rap group from California. He performed five of the band’s most popular songs and insisted that everyone get out of their seats and crowd around him as he performed. Feeding off the crowd’s energy, he even freestyled for the audience.

Toward the end of his set, DANakaDAN encouraged students to become more actively involved with the arts, as he believed that Asian American parents generally did not support their children in pursuing careers in acting, music and other artistic fields. He also praised the increased presence of Asian Americans both in Hollywood and in the music industry.

Between Genki Spark and afterschoolspecial, an array of Brandeis clubs also performed.

A skit organized by the Southeast Asian Club (SEAC) proved to be the highlight of the student portion of the ceremony. Members of SEAC gave a performance of “The Monkey and the Turtle,” an old Filipino folk tale concerning karma. In the story, Monkey and Turtle come across a banana plant. Monkey decides to split the plant between them by giving Turtle the roots and himself the more attractive upper portion; Monkey believes he’s successfully deceived Turtle. Within a few days, Monkey’s plant is dead, while Turtle’s banana roots have blossomed. Monkey becomes jealous and begins picking the bananas off Turtle’s plant, but Turtle asks his friend Dog to bark in order to scare away Monkey. Upon hearing the bark, Monkey falls into a nearby stream and drowns.

Other groups represented at the ceremony chose to emphasize more modern aspects of their respective cultures. Both the Japanese Culture Club and R3B3LS performed dances. The R3B3LS’ performance consisted of an intriguing fusion of contemporary urban dance with the plot of various Korean dramas. The Chinese Culture Club, meanwhile, performed a Chinese pop song and visually mimicked the actions described by its lyrics.

In the midst of these performances, the BAASA executive board took time to note the accomplishments of famous Asian Americans, an eclectic group ranging from “Glee” star Harry Shum, Jr. to fashion designer Vera Wang. Members of the board also discussed historical discrimination against Asians in America, such as the xenophobia encountered by Chinese workers on the Transcontinental Railroad and the internment camps established by the American government for Japanese Americans during World War II.

The executive board was not about to be left out of the more lighthearted festivities, however. As a group, they performed a modern hip hop dance to pop music, which was silly but entertaining. What the performance lacked in coordination the group certainly made up for with spirit.

Of course, one of the highlights of many Brandeis events is the free food afterwards, and this CelebrAsian certainly didn’t disappoint gastronomically. Ah, the simple pleasures of Brandeisian life.