By Alethea Kavarnos
The University of Connecticut’s Chinese Undergraduate Student Association and Vietnamese Student Association hosted the Lunar New Year celebration on Feb. 8th. There were performances by both professionals and students, and food was provided to those who attended.
Annie Gao, president of the Chinese Undergraduate Student Association (also known as UConn CUSA) and senior chemical engineering major, kicked off the night and introduced the MC’s, Scott Khan and Cindy Lee.
“Lunar New Year is one of the biggest holidays celebrated in Chinese and Vietnamese culture. So, we follow a lunar calendar, which is slightly off from the solar calendar, that everyone else follows and Lunar New Year is the first day of that lunar calendar. So this year it’s January 25, but we are celebrating it a little bit later,” Gao said.
“It’s important, especially as a minority group to stand together and be strong together and have each other’s back. Just seeing everyone show up and very excited to support us for the ninth year in a row is amazing.”
The event was done in collaboration with the UConn club China Care. The club fundraises year-round to support orphaned children in China and the orphanages they live in with diapers, air conditioners and medical expenses. The club also gives adopted Chinese children a cultural community and teaches them of their cultural heritage and traditions.
The president of the club was actually in the group when she was a child 20 years ago and loves that she is able to give back.
It’s a chance for [the students] to celebrate a holiday that they might not usually celebrate at UConn, especially for students who live far away from home,” Gao said. “This is a chance for them to celebrate something that is meaningful for them.”
According to Brian Dinh, co-president of the Vietnamese Student Association, both associations had been planning for the event since August.
“We always use notes from previous years so it gets better and better. I have a lot of history with this event, it’s actually my ninth one personally. I used to come here as a kid to perform and when I came to UConn I started to get involved in the planning,” Dinh said.
“It means a lot to the Asian community on campus, because Lunar New Year is one of the most important holidays in Vietnam, China and a number of other countries. We are not often given a chance to celebrate. We don’t get school off. Over there our families get like a week or two off of work and school. It’s nice to come together to celebrate something we have in common.”
The performances were kicked off by the UConn Taiko drumming group. They used traditional drums to wow the crowd with strong beats and powerful energy.
Khan and Lee introduced the celebrations and explained this year’s zodiac, the rat, which is the first animal in the zodiac and a symbol of wealth. The introductions were done in English and then translated into both Vietnamese and Chinese.
Fanesse, a traditional Vietnamese dance team based in New York, performed next. They balance traditional dancing with modern touches, and use their fans to create vibrant movements and designs.
Next was a group from the Asian Performing Arts of Connecticut, a group that promotes Chinese cultural arts. They did the long sleeve dance which was meant to portray the blooming of flowers. They use their long sleeves to create beautiful movements and to exaggerate their dancing.
Later they did another dance, the Xinjiang dance, meant to illustrate one of the driest provinces in China and the most important route on the silk road. Their dance emphasizes the movement of their wrists, shoulders and head.
After performances by student Tam Vu and UConn’s only cultural BR Band, the finale of the first act was the traditional lion dance from the Julong Wushu center. Two men stand in the lion structure and dance. It is good luck to feed the lions money. The crowd excitedly would get on each other’s shoulders to prompt the lions to also stand on their hind legs.
After a brief intermission, there was a Wushu Kung-Fu demonstration from Julong Wushu center in South Windsor. Wushu is a form of martial arts developed in part by the Chinese government to formalize and standardize the martial arts system. The Julong Wushu center was founded by Head Coach and Wushu Grandmaster Ginger Jiang. Students ranging from children to adults displayed their martial arts training and demonstrated their skills in Chinese weapons like the Long Staff, straight sword, broadsword, fan and whip chain.
Students Jenny Wei and Angela Sang performed two individual songs of the Guzheng, a Chinese plucked instrument with over 2,000 years of history. The number of strings has changed over the years: the oldest instrument found had 13 strings but now, modern versions have 21, 25 or 26 strings.
After more traditional and modern dances performed by CUSA and VSA’s dance teams, UConn freshman and biomedical engineering student Kimlyn Vo performed the song “Xuan De Ve” on the clarinet. The song represents the return of spring and was vocally accompanied by Tam Vu.
To end the show, students from both associations dressed in traditional Chinese and Vietnamese clothing and put on a fashion show.
Senior Raven Soumoholphakdy is a member of Lambda Phi Epsilon, an Asian interest fraternity, and walked the fashion show with his partner Jazmyn Bumanglag.
“Tonight I participated in the Lunar New Year fashion show. So we had multiple partners go up on stage wearing traditional either Chinese or Vietnamese formal wear… A lot of families volunteered and had their kids take formal wear that they had in their home. They had them bring them to our rehearsals. It was a lot of families of students who contributed to the outfits,” Soumoholphakdy said.
“It’s really awesome to have this sense of community at UConn, especially because when you are Asian, it kind of feels like you are alone sometimes. Having this recognition, especially on such a big event like Lunar New Year, it was really nice to have the numbers and see people come out.”