UMass AASA’s Annual Asian Night inspires unity and reflects the diversity of the Asian experience – Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The 38th year of the UMass tradition bridges the cultures of music, dance and performance

Photo courtesy of UMass Asian-American Student Association

On the evening of Sunday, April 10, the UMass Asian-American Student Association (AASA) held its 38th Asian Night, “Found in Translation.” This year’s event was about highlighting the “beauty of our differences”. Contrary to representations and perceptions of Asians as a monolithic people, the Asian diaspora is a diverse and eclectic global community of many cultures. AASA Secretary Anna Nguyen believes the event “is an evening that showcases Asian talent and is AASA’s way of giving back to the community, providing a free and accessible way for people to come and enjoy the hard work and excellence that students and artists can bring to the table. For Nguyen, building community means “providing a safe space for people to come and make new friendships and new memories,” and AASA certainly accomplishes that and more with Asian Night.

Hosted at the Bromery Arts Center, “Found in Translation” marks the second major in-person event for AASA since its “Into the Enchanted Forest” Winter Ball last semester. The queue to enter stretched beyond the old Isenberg building, with cheering supporters lining up early to win prizes ranging from insomnia cookies and high-end calligraphy pens to figurines Gundam.

The event began at 7:00 p.m. and was expected to last approximately three hours. Asian interest dance groups like Rice Paddy Heroes, KDC, 5: Dirty Crew and +86 lit up the stage with original choreography, K-pop dance covers and hip hop freestyles. Proof of a common thread in Asian culture, many generations of K-pop artists were represented through dance covers from global girl group 2NE1 of the past decade to next-gen leaders IVE. The diabolo (Chinese yo-yo) and dragon choreography group, TASC, stood out with smooth movements and edge turns of your seat.

Speaking to the dancers of UMass Altitude’s 5: Dirty Crew and New England-based Rice Paddy Heroes, they explained how they feel extremely proud of their Asian identity and believe that representation of all kinds is extremely important in dance. Specifically, they expressed their honor to represent Asians in dance. These highly established teams in the local and North East region have impressive legacies and accolades.

And the evening wouldn’t have been complete without a serenade of student singers, instrumental troupes and bands. While many pan-Asian cultural events tend to primarily showcase East Asian culture, it was evident that Southeast Asian culture was alive and well at Asian Night, a true testament to AASA’s mission to foster diversity. Representing the new Philippine student union UMass, junior Audrey Gabriel performed powerful renditions of Olivia Rodrigo’s “Deja Vu” and the classic Filipino ballad, “Wag Ka Nang Umiyak.” Multilingual Vietnamese student band DSW lit up the stage with live music, vocals, piano, guitar and drums in their arsenal. Slowing things down, UMass student string quartet chamber band SAVJ performed an original arrangement of Billie Eillish’s “Lovely” and An-Chi Huang’s “Khalid.”

For an event that is a longstanding UMass tradition, the stakes are incredibly high for the AASA Board of Directors to put on a great show every year. Current AASA President Esther Chin told me about a sudden challenge that threatened to jeopardize a year of planning. She said, “Due to unforeseen circumstances, one of our [original] the invited artists could no longer come. When Chin heard the news, she recalled her stomach “dropping” and “mind going blank.” Thankfully, the AASA electronic board was able to turn things around and announce a new guest artist, Hojean, just hours after the previous cancellation.

The big players of the evening, Hojean and Eugene Lee Yang, arrived with great fanfare. Hojean’s dream set included headliners like “You Feel Like” and the breakthrough hit “Over 85.” The 22-year-old Korean-American singer based of Georgia, has more than 700,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. Before finishing his set, Hojean addressed the crowd, “You’re Asian and that’s a beautiful thing. I’m so proud to be Asian. The past two years have been difficult for the AAPI community, seeing increased instances of violent racism and hate crimes, so assertions as simple as Hojean made are profound. After the show, Hojean told me that getting up on that stage and “doing it” as an up-and-coming Asian artist is “all for [him].”

Opting for a seated conversation rather than a performance, Eugene Lee Yang’s ensemble discussed the issue of Asian representation in the media, the queer Asian experience and even passed on advice to students. Known for his work with “The Try Guys” on Buzzfeed, Yang’s “I’m Gay” release video in June 2019 was just the start of what was to be an illustrious, diverse and philanthropic career. Responding to questions about how he navigates the intersection of his Asian and queer identities, Yang recalls feeling “stuck between worlds” and using his creativity to express himself. Telling the story of his mother who only discovered the meaning of the letters in “LGBTQ+” years after coming out, Yang talks about the traditionally conservative aspects of Asian culture and gay children who need to “show off.” where their family is and to reveal themselves. Therefore. With an optimistic outlook, Yang assures young Asian LGBTQ+ people that the people who love them will eventually find each other.

Despite such success, AASA Vice President Ashley Tsang looks to the future and predicts that her organization will see “bigger hits and even bigger and better Asian nights in the future of the AAA!” Look forward to more exciting events from AASA (@UMass_AASA) and other cultural organizations this semester and beyond.

James Rosales can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter at @imjamesrosa.

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