At first, it seemed everyone wanted only the food. Although Go and mah-jongg tables were set up outside the Frist convenience store and Wyliena Guan ’11 was emceeing a string of student performances, the crowd gathered around the buffet. This was the opening ceremony of Princeton’s Asian Heritage Month — held each April by the student-run Asian Heritage Council (AHC) — and the dim sum was good.
The celebration featured Chinese, Thai, and Indian cuisine, a sushi-making table, a rice-eating competition, Asian board games, and presentations by the student groups Triple 8 (hip-hop and traditional East Asian dance), Princeton Chinese Theater, the Wildcats (female a cappella), and the Tapcats (tap dance). A professional magician, Zhao Nai Yi, performed bian lian, or “face changing,” a traditional Chinese performance style in which the entertainer swaps masks in the blink of an eye.
“We’re just trying to attract as many people as possible to our events,” said AHC co-president Zhihan Ma ’11. The ceremony’s diverse offerings hinted at what Ma described as AHC’s larger aims — to bridge cultures from all regions of Asia and to draw Asians, Asian-Americans, and non-Asians together.
“It’s very complicated when you talk about Asian-Americans here,” said Thomas Chen ’09, “because there are Asian-Americans trying to be ... more in touch with their heritage, [and] also Asian internationals who want to be more assimilated.”
Students who are interested in Asia or are of Asian descent are scattered throughout Princeton’s array of Asia-themed clubs. These include American cultural groups, like the Asian American Students Association, and organizations devoted to the traditions of a specific Asian country, such as Princeton Chinese Theater. Groups concentrate, variously, on South, Southeast, and East Asia and range from dance troupes to magazines.
Chen said that the AHC’s growth has encouraged interaction between East Asian international students and Americans of East Asian heritage, but said the cultural clubs could be “more proactive in reaching out to other students.”
“We have the capacity to actually start things,” said Ma of Princeton’s growing and increasingly varied Asian community. “[We] want to do more than just food.”