New Year’s as diverse as cultures

by Nancy Ngo

The distinctions among different Asian New Year celebrations occurring this month are not always recognized by University members.
That is just one example of the loss of individual and national identity experienced by some members of the 650 students that make up the Asian American Student Cultural Center.
“We are not a homogenous mixture of Asians,” said Jackie Truong, the education chair of the cultural center and a sophomore in the College of Liberal Arts. She said each subgroup — Cambodian, Laotian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Pilipino, Hmong and Taiwanese — accommodates the different languages and gestures of its culture.
Asian or Pacific islander students make up 17.2 percent of the University population.
“A person asked me if the AASCC just finished the new year, but AASCC doesn’t celebrate the new year,” said Troung.
She said events such as New Year celebrations have little connection to the cultural center as a whole because events are planned independently by subgroups.
Phonexay Pongmany, president of the Laotian Student Association and a junior majoring in architecture, said that it is important to have the different subgroups, especially for unique celebrations. “We have different New Year’s dates and we can’t clump each organization and their New Year’s.”
The Laotian New Year occurs in April whereas the Chinese, Vietnamese and Hmong New Year are in February.
Part of educating the University community about the distinctions of Asian cultures is to reach outside to people that don’t already come to the center, said Aaron Khieu, president of the Vietnamese Student Association and a senior in the Institute of Technology.
“We try to preserve our own culture and also try to make the connection between Vietnamese students with other students at the University,” Khieu said.
The Vietnamese Student Association represents the largest subgroup of the Asian American Student Cultural Center with about 325 students.
Khieu said University community members don’t realize that the cultural center and events held by the subgroups are for everyone.
Melissa Herink, a University sophomore majoring in business law, said that she goes to Coffman Memorial Union at least three times a week but has never visited any of the cultural centers located in Coffman.
As she sat 50 feet away from the cultural centers reading a newspaper, Herink said she has always assumed that not every University member could use the centers. “It’s a place for minority students to meet with other minority students,” she said.
Herink said although she had always thought of the many Asian cultures as distinct, she looked at the different Asian New Year celebrations as falling all on one day.
Even within the cultural center, many students do not know that you do not have to be a specific ethnic or cultural background to belong to a student association.
Christo Lon, a senior in the Carlson marketing school, said one reason he came to the cultural center was to learn about other Asian cultures.
When he first came to the cultural center during his freshman year, he had a preconception of the center. “I was like a lot of people that came into the center thinking that I would have to be in one group.”
He not only learned about his own Cambodian culture, but he also became a member of the Chinese Student Association. “My experience is that, though you may identify with a language, you don’t always have affinity with one group.”
The notion that all Asians are the same is one of many issues leaders of the center try to dispel. Awareness of distinctions is not only an ongoing process when interacting with members outside of the center, but internally as well.
The center’s members recently held a fall retreat where they discussed the differences between what it means to be Asian or Asian-American. Leaders said they question whether being a native of a country or being born and raised by American influences should be distinguished within the center.