The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Asian New Year Festival showcases cultural traditions

GVL | Ella McClintock

The Grand Valley State University Asian Student Union (ASU) invited the GVSU community to join them in welcoming the Year of the Dragon during the annual Asian New Year Festival (ANYF) which was held on Saturday, Feb. 17.

The Grand River Room in Kirkhof Center was transformed with red and gold decorations. Those in attendance could enjoy cultural dishes, take part in a giveaway and watch a lineup of performances. This event drew attention and celebrated the ANYF with the GVSU community. 

“Something that I really appreciate is the attention to detail we did for cultural aspects for the event,” said Lily Nykamp, a GVSU sophomore and ASU activities coordinator. “At our tables, we have these six-section dishes and they have different candies in them. Oranges are supposed to represent wealth and importance. These are typical things you’d find in a Chinese household, so I thought it was really cool that we could incorporate that. We also have a lot of gold and red decorations, which are traditional colors for wealth and good luck.”

Nykamp was in charge of planning the festival and coordinating performance groups to bring in for the event. The groups that were brought in included GVSU’s Kpop Group Evolution and the Ascendant Lion Dance Team of West Michigan. The latter performed traditional dances presented by the GVSU Nepali Student Association and GVSU Vietnamese Student Association. In addition, for the first time, Sumo wrestlers competed, including Grand Rapids Sumo Club and the acclaimed retired Sumo wrestler Ryuichi Yamamotoyama.

Since this was only the second time the event was held in person since COVID-19, preparations for the event were challenging for Nykamp and other members of the ASU executive board who were involved in planning the event. 

“We prepare during the first semester, and even (prior to that) during the summer. We try to get performers not (just) from GV, as well as from other clubs and other schools,” said Brianna Lee, the co-president of the ASU. “We try to make this event free. We want everyone to come and enjoy it.”

Nykamp said that even with the ultimate success of the event the organization faced many challenges while trying to coordinate the event. 

“It was a nightmare, to be completely honest. It was a lot of finding emails and resources, because we’re kind of starting from scratch again (after COVID),” Nykamp said. “We had to talk to a lot of our advisors who are involved in the community and find new people who would be interested in participating in a college event. After a lot of emailing time, we found some generous community members who were willing to perform, and so far, they’ve been doing such a good job.”

Even with the obstacles the role presented, Nykamp did not shy away from her coordinating duties. After she participated in the organization as a freshman last year, Nykamp was motivated to step up a role on the executive board of ASU because of events like the festival. 

“I didn’t grow up with this kind of stuff at my school. It was majority white, so the fact that we have a club (at GVSU) that put all this on, I knew immediately. This is my normal life at home. I wanna be a part of showcasing this,” Nykamp said. 

Events like the ANYF festival can be expensive. ASU not only had financial support from the Asian Student Achievement Program, but they also received proposal-based funding from Student Senate to further support the event. Despite the cost to put it on, the festival is also a philanthropic opportunity for the club. Lee said donations raised during the event will go to the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.

ANYF served as an opportunity for visibility and celebration for Asian communities on campus.

“Our purpose and goal is to spread Asian culture and Asian awareness. GV is mostly white-dominated, and we want to show GV and the community our Asian cultures,” Lee said. “Obviously we can’t just do that in a boring way, in a boring meeting, we want to do it in a big event.”

Nykamp said that the presence and visibility the festival creates for the Asian community on campus is valuable to GVSU as a whole. 

“I think this is really important, because the Asian population (on campus) alone makes up only 2%. I think sometimes we’re a little invisible. People don’t see us or think that our culture is impactful if they don’t know a lot of Asian people,” Nykamp said. “A lot of the time, this is where we invite our friends and family from the community to be a part of this, and we love to be able to showcase our culture because culture should be shared. Culture can be intimidating, but this is a really easy setting to just come in and witness it. You don’t have to participate in it, but you can observe and watch and learn something.”

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