It’s more than food, music and clothing; more than political views and trade agreements. Asia is a multicultural conglomeration with more than 2,000 dialects — many of which are spoken and represented on Missouri State University’s campus.
In light of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, MSU Multicultural Programs hosted the second annual Asia Fest Banquet on Saturday, April 21. The Plaster Student Union Ballroom was filled with vibrant colors as students and community members dressed in traditional garments made their way to their tables, stopping to hug one another and exchange greetings along the way.
Dinner was served after a brief welcome by Executive Director of Multicultural Programs and Student Diversity Yvania Garcia-Pusateri, and an international welcome by Peng Zhang, China operations specialist at the Office of China Programs.
In only its second year, the event attracted a crowd of roughly 200, doubling the amount it saw last year. Reservations were filled quickly, as more international and domestic students were eager to be a part of the celebration. Matthew Banks, coordinator for Multicultural Programs and LGBT Student Services said this year’s banquet spoke to a larger volume of identities.
“What we did with this banquet, and what it speaks to the entire month, is really expand our understanding of Asian and what it is,” Banks, committee co-chair, said. “Traditionally when we think of Asia, we think of East Asia — we think of China, Korea and Japan. The committee was very intentional that that includes South Asia … Central Asia … and it also includes the Middle East.”
The diversity was seen in a range of performances throughout the night, including a Korean drum dance, a performance by members of the Traditional Chinese Dance Club, a vocal performance in Bengali and a collection of songs and dances showcased by Nepalese students.
Planning for the banquet, and for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month as a whole, began in late February. Typically celebrated in May, Banks said the celebration was moved forward in an attempt to not “shortchange” Asia. “All the other months get four weeks, and we wanted to give Asia four weeks as well,” Banks said.
A large part of the planning is based on the passions of the committee. One committee member was passionate about interfaith work; as a result, Multicultural Programs hosted an event about the origins of religion. Looking forward, Banks said he hopes to see the heritage month flourish in other aspects as well, incorporating more critical programming into the event calendar.
“How can we think about Asian identity through a racial justice lens?” Banks said. “The important part of this is that the work Multicultural Programs does provide space, opportunities and empowerment for students who aren’t necessarily viewed or visible to a larger community. It’s about making sure their voices are heard.”
In a closing statement, committee co-chair In Young Jang gave special thanks to various organizations for their dedication to the banquet and recognized members by name. “This would not have been possible without the support and the work of the student organizations who have helped plan and volunteer at this event,” Jang said.
That Saturday night, as performances came to a close, the color of various cultures flowed throughout fabric in the room. The banquet ended with a fashion show of bright pink “water sleeves” and a flowered qipao from China, traditional hanboks from Korea, men’s tunics from Saudi Arabia and more.
Standing in a line under the lights of the ballroom, their colors and skirts, as unique as the culture in each country, mixed together. A hint of Asia, as a representation and an embodiment was seen.