Brilliant red and gold embellishments adorned the Houston Room as students of different ethnic backgrounds lined up to ring in the Lunar New Year.
A holiday that is central to many Asian countries, the Lunar New Year is now observed by the global Asian diaspora as a time to reconvene and celebrate familial and cultural roots. Over 350 attendees welcomed the year of the tiger, eager to partake in games, live performances and refreshments planned by the Residence Halls Association.
John Nguyen, the RHA president, emphasized that this is the first Lunar New Year event that has been held in over 10 years despite UH boasting a considerable Asian demographic.
Provoked by the recent slew of hate crimes towards the AAPI community, he and residential advisor Elaine Tran took it upon themselves to plan an event that would encapsulate the radiance of Asian culture while supporting local Asian businesses.
“We couldn’t remember the last time we were able to celebrate Asian culture nor were encouraged to,” said Nguyen. “In the midst of the negative views and hate crimes involving the AAPI community, we are reminded of how important positive representation and cultural education is and how much of a difference it makes.”
Tran added that another big reason they wanted to create this event was for AAPI students who aren’t able to spend this time with their families.
“I also know many residents don’t get to be with their families during this time,” Tran said. “So I wanted to help them be less homesick.”
Partnering with Kravin’ Fruit Bar, the RHA was able to treat attendees with free boba, fried tofu and Taiwanese popcorn chicken from the leading establishment in Little Saigon, one of the largest Vietnamese enclaves in the United States.
Kravin’ Fruit Bar owner David Ngo explained that as a University of Houston alumnus, it was important for him to give back to the community for which he owes Kravin’ Fruit Bar’s success, even donating $100 worth of gift cards to the event.
Tran noted that Kravin’ Fruit Bar was selected because of its humble origins that many immigrant AAPI families can relate to.
“While we celebrate the culture and good food, we shouldn’t forget to celebrate the people behind it,” said Tran.
The ambiance was characterized by enthusiasm and a desire to teach and learn about Asian culture. Supply chain management student Goodnews Nwankwo shared that he had never experienced a Lunar New Year event before and that his favorite part was being exposed to all of the cultures through games.
Lambda Delta Psi, predominantly an Asian sorority, provided Bầu Cua Tôm Cá, a gambling game that is played with the “Lucky Money” that is received on Lunar New Year. Attendees were also immersed in “Pin the Tail on the Tiger,” VR “Beat Saber,” which was set up by the UH E-sports Organization, and a popular photo booth station students could use.
In addition to games, the event featured an array of performances and a traditional wear fashion show. Broadcast journalism student John Rizzio said that his favorite performance was the traditional Chinese dance staged by Melody Li, a comparative literature professor.
Providing a refreshing breath of modernism, Celeste M (a stage name) excited the crowd with her captivating dance cover of the popular K-Pop song, “Better,” by BoA. The momentum didn’t stop there – Michelle Zheng enchanted attendees with the stunning visuals she created with her vibrant silk fan while demonstrating the elegance of traditional dance. The final performance was a group dance conducted by the charming Chinese-American Language & Culture Organization, also known as CALCO.
Those who arrived at the event 15 minutes early to receive free T-shirts ended up waiting behind over 200 people just to enter the Houston room. Based on the sheer number of attendees, the infectious laughter and the rich displays of culture that drew larger and larger crowds, it is safe to say that the event was a success.
“Thank you to RHA and SHRL for giving us the opportunity to shine a light on not only the AAPI community but the collective diversity of our campus,” said Nguyen.