By Karl Holappa
The Kate Buchanan Room was filled to capacity on Friday night, as a diverse mix of students and local residents gathered to celebrate the Lunar New Year, otherwise known as the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year. The Humboldt State Multicultural Center (MCC), the College of Professional Studies (CPS), and the Chinese Student Scholar Association (CSSA) organized the event.
Students and faculty gave presentations that described various facets of Asian culture, including customs related to the holiday and traditional dress styles. The CSSA showcased a traditional Chinese dance routine, which drew heavy applause from the crowd. A meal of Chinese food, including chow mein, pot stickers and orange chicken was served to attendees.
“It was awesome, we had such a great turnout,” said Alana Souza, senior film major and Asian Pacific Island community building coordinator for the MCC. “I had fun because everyone else had fun.”
Souza said she enjoyed the representation of many ethic identities into one celebration. “It’s really awesome to not just blend Asian cultures, but even people who don’t belong to Asian or Pacific Islander [communities],” Souza said. “It helps them learn about other cultures.”
Shuhei Makiyama, senior geography major and international student coordinator for the MCC, said he was pleased at the turnout for the event. Makiyama said more attendees stayed for the duration of the event compared to the year before. “Last year we felt performances were a bit too long, so we tried to shorten them a bit,” Makiyama said.
Makiyama said that the event emphasized the diversity of Asian cultures, despite the event being traditionally Chinese. Tables were arranged around the edge of the room where attendees could learn to write happy New Year in various Asian languages.
“What I see through living in the US is that people categorize people by race but not ethnicity,” Makiyama said. “By just participating in that sort of event, you will see the difference between Asian countries; there are differences within that group … that sort of event is a great resource for us to realize differences.”
Perhaps the most moving part of the event was the traditional gifting of the red envelope. Dr. John Lee, Dean of the College of Professional Studies, purchased $25 gift cards to Café Brio and distributed them inside red envelopes to all students in attendance. The custom is commonplace in Chinese New Year celebrations, and is meant to impart good luck and blessings from the giver to recipient.
“Our Chinese students in America find our own way to celebrate and express our happy emotions for Americans,” said Zirui Dang, senior journalism major and treasurer for the CSSA. Dang said it is important in Chinese culture to return home for the festivities, and it is nice to have a local celebration for students who are not able to do so.
The celebration is considered to be lunar, due to the fact that the Chinese calendar is based on moon phases and positioning of the sun. Due to this, the date changes from year to year. The observance of the event is centuries old, and is not only celebrated in Mainland China, but also in countries that have significant Chinese populations.
Mona Mazzotti, outreach and social justice programs coordinator for the MCC, said that the groups responsible began organizing the event last October. Mazzotti said students were primarily responsible for organizing the event and were assisted by faculty when needed. She said the event is one of the largest put on by the MCC, and is heavily attended every year.
“This is a family gathering time, and something our [international] students would be doing at home,” Mazzotti said. “It’s an opportunity for us to provide a space for them to enjoy that, so they don’t feel so alone so far away for home.”
Mazzotti said the event highlights the purpose of the MCC. The center is student-centered and faculty members are on hand to specifically aid in the needs of the students. As such, this event and others put on by the MCC are conceived and planned by students. “If a student wants to share part of their culture and heritage, we’re here to help provide that space and opportunity,” Mazzotti said. “Being able to share part of what they hold dear is very important.”