Last Wednesday, the Asian Studies Program, Center for International Programs and the East West Living Learning Community hosted their annual Lunar New Year celebration in Sojourner Truth Library. The festival was belated this year as a result of New Paltz’ water issues the week prior.
According to fourth-year art history major Brandon Garcia, the event has been in its preparation stages since the beginning of the semester and took numerous people to craft. The International Students Union, Jam Asia, chair of the history department Kristine Harris and Director of Asian Studies Akira Shimada all contributed to the Lunar New Year celebration.
The event has been happening annually for the last 15 or 20 years, according to Harris.
“The idea is to help raise awareness of Asian culture and to get people interested in studying abroad or taking language courses,” Harris said.
The event highlighted opportunities like the Friends of Asian Studies Endowment Scholarship, which is for Asian Studies majors who are planning to study abroad. According to Shimada, the scholarship can easily cover the cost of airfare to China or Japan.
The celebration attracted students and residents from New Paltz, and even people from surrounding areas and universities as well. First-year Vassar student Jackson Freiman was intrigued by the festivities.
“There is, I think, an epidemic of cultural divide, especially when you get to higher education,” he said.
This is evident in that many attendees expected a “Chinese New Year” celebration when, in reality, it is a Lunar New Year celebration because many Asian cultures celebrate this holiday.
“Social groups, I feel, just divide more and more, so experiences like this really hold us together,” Freiman said.
The festivities included a briefing on the “year of the rat,” an authentic Lion Dance, Chinese, Korean and Japanese calligraphy, Chinese Red Lantern making, and a chopsticks game. Attendees also were welcome to sample traditional home cooked dishes, courtesy of the event’s coordinators.
Students like Asian Studies major Doji Satchivi proudly held their names written in large, beautifully calligraphed Chinese, Japanese or Korean characters. According to Satchivi, the story of his Chinese name is “pretty funny.”
“My teacher gave it to me and I didn’t like it so I requested a new one. Then, [with] the new one that I picked, I had multiple Chinese students tell me it was not good so I ended up changing it back,” Satchivi said.
The various booths and delicious food were just the icing on the cake. The essence of the event was “easy access” to Asian culture, according to Shimada.
“In my experience, students do not quite get exposed to [cultures other than] Western culture. They might even have some biases towards Asian culture,” Shimada stated. “So organizing this kind of event and also the classroom teaching are quite important.”
The Lunar New Year is actually the second of the two cultural events hosted by the East West Living Learning Community, Jam Asia and the listed professors.
“We have a fall event that celebrates the Mid Autumn Festival … a bit like a Thanksgiving kind of celebration,” Harris said.
For those interested in getting acquainted with Asian culture and learning on campus, the process is easier than most students think, Harris explained.
“[Students can] even become a major or minor [in Asian Studies] if you do one class each semester for the first year of language. You can become a minor with just a few more courses on history, literature or philosophy,” Harris said.
For more information on the East West Living Learning Community, students can contact Bianca Sylvain at firstname.lastname@example.org or Christian Wilwohl at email@example.com to hear about the program and the application process.