by Laura Feng, Ira Singh & Theo Younkin, Features Reporters and Features Editor
photo by Evan Ng
Whether it’s spotlighting an exhibition of traditional Chinese martial arts or an energy-filled K-pop dance performance, Asian Night has been a beloved tradition at South for 20 years.
Featuring performances highlighting both traditional and modern cultures, dance, music and martial arts, Asian Night is entirely student-run.
The event is organized by officers from the Asian Student Organization (ASO), South Asian Student Association (SASA) and Middle Eastern, South West Asian, and North African (MESWANA) Coalition.
Each year, all proceeds from the event go to an AAPI charity. This year, the money raised from the ticket sales and the stuffed animal raffle went to the Syria Relief Fund.
ASO junior officer and junior Ethan Cheng said that he loves working with ASO on events like Asian Night and having an impact on South’s Asian community.
“For as long as I’ve been at South, some of my biggest Asian role models have been on ASO leadership,” Cheng said. “As I’m rounding out my time at South, it’s nice to give back a little.”
With all the moving pieces, the planning process can be a heavy weight on the shoulders of the ASO officers and student performers involved. ASO senior officer and junior Hannah Lim said that the organization of Asian Night was demanding, but it was worthwhile.
“It’s a lot, to say the least, but I feel like throughout the process, we learned a lot about each other and what works out and what doesn’t work out for future years,” Lim said. “It’s been pretty hectic, but it’s worth it,”
Freshman Alyssa Xia, who performed a traditional Chinese dance said that she felt nervous in anticipation of her performance.
“It’s a lot of pressure to deliver, but I’m happy to do it,” she said. “It’s a good way to show off what we’re proud of.”
K-pop club leader and senior Jisun Yoon said that the event is a prime opportunity for non-Asian students to learn about and experience Asian culture.
“[Asian Night] shines a spotlight [on] the minorities in our school, and it’s a day where you celebrate these people’s culture and you get to learn a lot about them too,” she said.
Lim said Asian Night is also an opportunity for Asian students to spend time with and relate to people with similar backgrounds and experiences.
“Asian Night is a safe space for Asians,” she said. “It’s supposed to be somewhere where we can truly express ourselves without being afraid [that] someone’s going to judge us for performing a K-pop song or singing a Chinese song. ”
Co-president and founder of MESWANA Coalition Taban Malihi said that the shared experience of Asian Night is what makes it so special.
“In terms of bringing all these groups together and creating this collective experience for the whole school community, I feel like we don’t tend to have a lot of experiences [like these] over the course of a normal school year,” she said. “Having Asian Night is a really good outlet for that.”
Chemistry teacher and club advisor for ASO and SASA Marianne McChesney has overseen almost all of the 20 Asian Nights that South has held. She said that she’s always looked forward to seeing students’ talents revealed onstage.
“It provides a really nice opportunity for them to show a side of themselves that maybe they don’t get to in their day-to-day classes, or even just in other situations,” she said.
“A lot of comments I’ve gotten from staff members that have attended Asian Night for the first time are that they didn’t realize their student was so into dance or so into music because it’s just not something that might get expressed in the regular school day.”
Over the course of 20 Asian Nights, the event itself has evolved and changed since the initial production. However, McChesney said that one element has remained the same every year.
“What the students choose to do is always different year to year, but what has stayed the same is the pride and joy that they take in connecting with their various cultures and then sharing it with the audience,” she said.
Co-president of SASA, leader of its Zamaana dance group and senior Janani Ganesh said she feels that one of the main purposes of Asian Night is to ensure that every group of the Asian community feels seen and appreciated.
“[Asian Night] brings people from all different kinds of Asian backgrounds together, and it also gives us a sense to look forward to something,” Ganesh said. “I find that if we do celebrate something Asian, it’s very East-Asian, so Asian Night is a day where especially South Asians feel like they belong in this community.”
With all the hardships that Asian-Americans face, Cheng said he feels that Asian Night is a much-needed event, as it fosters unity and supports Asian students.
“The idea that you can just sign up for something and showcase your talents in front of a bunch of different people who are there to support you [is] especially needed in recent years with the crazy [stuff] that’s been happening with Asian people,” he said. “Having that support base is important.”
Malihi said that she hopes efforts to promote inclusivity will continue to be made.
“It’s important to continually keep up the efforts at inclusivity not only now, but in the long future,” she said. “I hope we can bring in other groups that could also benefit from and really contribute to a more inclusive Asian experience.”
Ganesh said she hopes that Asian Night is a place where people of all Asian backgrounds can freely celebrate their culture.
“I hope that people feel more connected to their roots and connected to their culture because that’s not something that we celebrate a lot here,” she said.
“There’s an inequality in what cultures we do celebrate, and I hope that Asian Night gives everybody who identifies as Asian a purpose and something to look forward to in the year.”