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Rutgers' Asian American Cultural Center celebrates APIDA heritage month

The Asian American Cultural Center (AACC) marked the beginning of Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Heritage Month with a gala full of performances, activities and a fashion show. – Photo by Patricia Agtarap

On April 7, I had the privilege of attending the Asian American Cultural Center's (AACC) Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Heritage Month Opening Ceremony at Rutgers Student Center on Livingston campus.

This event was hosted by two of the AACC’s interns, Mitra Raveendran, a School of Art and Sciences junior, and Geneva Lew, a School of Art and Sciences senior. The ceremony lasted approximately 3 hours and was filled to the brim with fun games, performances and even a fashion show.

Upon arriving, I saw that the somewhat drab Multi-Purpose Room at Rutgers Student Center on Livingston campus was transformed into a beautiful ballroom — each table was draped in royal purple tablecloths, each chair had a gold backing and there was even a Ferrero Rocher chocolate centerpiece. Music played from the speakers as people lined up to get freshly squeezed lemonade in comically large bottles.

Finally, at 7:15 p.m., the ceremony began. Raveendran and Lew introduced themselves and cracked a few jokes before commencing the first event: the cultural fashion show. It displayed cultural fashion from several countries, including Uzbekistan, India, Vietnam and the Philippines.

After the fashion show began the second event of the night: a performance by Polynesian dancers. There were women in brightly colored outfits who took to the stage, dancing rhythmically to a series of fast-paced drums. Halfway through the set, they even employed audience participation, bringing two people up on stage to follow their lead. A few more performances by this group followed, including a set of slower, more mellow dances, all accompanied by an incredible percussionist.

During the intermission, a variety of food was served, from vegan summer rice rolls to chili chicken Manchurian to Italian ice for dessert. People were taking photos at the makeshift photo booth, but backstage, the Vietnamese Cultural Dance Crew (VCDC) was gearing up for a spectacular performance. They utilized the art of traditional fan dancing to deliver breathtaking visuals executed with ease and elegance. VCDC displayed excellent synchronization and taught me about a part of Vietnamese culture that I was previously unaware of.

RU Taekwondo was the final performance of the night. The club simulated several fake-fight scenarios, demonstrated various ways to break a board (one guy broke a few with his head!) and performed in synch to background music. I was impressed with the club members' sharp moves, incredible athleticism and contagious enthusiasm.

After these amazing performances came the night's final event: Kahoot! With first, second and third place winners all receiving prizes, the room of more than 200 attendees got pretty competitive. Each Kahoot! category asked trivia about various Asian countries and got harder with each one.

The first category was about countries' flags, and while it started out simple, answer streaks began to break early on. As the Kahoot! ended, I found myself wondering why I had never been to an AACC event before today and left with a newfound sense of respect for the student organizers who worked diligently to make this event possible.

I had a chance to ask Raveendran and Lew a few questions about the gala and their involvement in it. Lew said that despite May being APIDA heritage month, the AACC's APIDA opening ceremony is held in April since many Rutgers clubs don't meet in May.

"Our goal (and) aim of the event is for the audience to be able to honor APIDA heritage, culture and complex identity," Lew said. "But also be informed, enjoy and have greater awareness of APIDA diaspora and celebration of communal existence and identity."

Raveendran added that they began planning for this event after the AACC’s Pan Asian Lunar New Year celebration, which meant they were under an intimidating deadline.

"We only had a month to find performers, models for our fashion show, design flyers, purchase giveaway prizes, create the Kahoot! and create the host script," Raveendran said. "It was crunch time for us, but with the help of my fellow senior and junior interns, we delivered an amazing event."

Both Raveendran and Lew stated their fondest memories from the gala included writing their script as hosts and being able to host the event with each other.

Raveendran, in particular, stated that she can be a bit shy and didn't expect to host a more than 200-person event, but with Lew’s help, she was able to do so. The two hosts talked about how they encouraged each other, and from my point of view, they played off each other’s strengths beautifully.

The APIDA Heritage Month Opening Ceremony was a wonderful display of culture and pride in an increasingly diverse world. The AACC encouraged a holistic showing of Asian culture while ensuring that each individual group got the opportunity to shine.

If you want to attend more AACC events, check out the APIDA Graduation and Leadership Awards, which celebrate the accomplishments of its graduates and organizations on May 2 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Rutgers Student Center on Busch campus.

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