Section: Features

Kenyon College celebrates Lunar New Year, Asian identities

Kenyon College celebrates Lunar New Year, Asian identities

Barry Bai ’20 plays at the new year celebration to a packed crowd. | ERYN POWELL

Professor of Chinese Jianhua Bai’s strongest childhood memories of the Chinese New Year are of happiness and community. “That’s the general idea of the celebration. Family getting together, the unity of friends,” he said. “For instance, in my little village, we would go to the other families and neighbors to just offer the best wishes.”   

Held annually on the first day of the lunar year, a changing date which falls between January 21 and February 20, the Chinese New Year celebrates the end of winter. “The coldest weather is over, and the people are looking for the spring,” Bai said.

On February 1, just as the campus was recovering from the polar vortex, dozens of students, faculty and friends gathered in Peirce Hall’s Alumni Dining Room to celebrate the Lunar New Year. This event, co-hosted by the Chinese Culture Club, Kenyon Asian Identities and the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, gave both international and U.S. students the opportunity to learn about cultural traditions from a variety of Asian countries.

AVI provided a buffet of dumplings and spring rolls, and on every table a spread of snacks from various Asian countries was available. People filtered in, joining their friends at crowded tables or standing around the sides of the room. Jack Au ’73, a former Kenyon trustee and a strong supporter of Kenyon’s Chinese program, introduced himself to everyone in the buffet line and thanked them for coming.

Once everyone had eaten, the show began with a series of cultural presentations from students about Lunar New Year traditions in various Asian countries. Boning Shi ’19 presented on China, Elise Tran ’19 on Vietnam and Syou Nam Thai ’22 on Malaysia and Japan. Dounia Sawaya ‘19 also gave a presentation on Korean culture in lieu of a friend who was unable to attend.

Wen-Chin Yeh, a Fulbright Fellow teaching Chinese at Kenyon this year, said she wasn’t sure how well these presentations would be received by the audience.

“I thought people might, a little bit, get bored. I don’t think they enjoy to listen to a speech like that, but actually, when I saw their faces, they really liked it,” she said. “I was so touched.”

After the cultural presentations, students enrolled in Chinese classes performed songs, Professor of Philosophy Yang Xiao pulled students from the audience for a game of “shuttlecock kicking,” a blend of badminton and hacky sack, and a group of students comedically dubbed a Chinese movie, replacing the original audio with their own voices. When the performances drew to a close, the crowd began to disperse, but plenty of students stayed to sing karaoke and participate in workshops on calligraphy and Chinese paper cutting.

Yeh did most of the planning for this event, along with Dounia Sawaya ’19 and Clare Chou ’19, the presidents of Kenyon Asian Identities and the Chinese Culture Club, respectively. From the beginning, they wanted to make this year’s Lunar New Year celebration more inclusive of all cultures that celebrate the Lunar New Year, incorporating Korean, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Japanese traditions as well as Chinese. They also wanted to make sure that all students would feel welcome. “We don’t want to let it become a Chinese students-exclusive activity,” Yeh said.

Looking around the room on Friday, people were crowded around tables, talking to their friends, laughing. The atmosphere was relaxed and welcoming. In the days leading up to the event, Bai said this feeling was the part of the event he was looking forward to most. “That’s the thing I look for, this kind of family gathering, that happy atmosphere. It’s such a happy occasion,” he said.

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