Chinese community finds unity in culture at Spring Festival Gala

Six students, three men and three women, stand on a stage.
The Chinese Student Association hosts their Spring Festival Gala in celebration of the Year of the Rat. (Melina Kofokotsiou • The Student Life)

A red and gold color scheme adorned McKenna Auditorium at Claremont McKenna College for the Chinese Student Association’s Spring Festival Gala, from intricate paper lanterns strung across the ceiling, to the traditional qipao and changshan that attendees wore.

In celebration of the Year of the Rat, the gala provided a lively and entertainment-filled space where attendees could mingle and pose for photos in front of themed backdrops. 

According to CSA event planner Emma Tao SC ’23, the gala was targeted toward Chinese international students. As guests arrived, each received a hongbao, a red envelope traditionally filled with money that younger or unmarried relatives receive in the new year.

“Since Chinese New Year happens after winter break [and] because it’s such a huge holiday, another way to do it is to celebrate here with friends who share the same culture,” she said.

The program included a diverse group of performers who lifted the spirits of the event. Musical acts dominated, as several acts of Chinese singing, dance and even rap performances captivated the audience.

For performer Edward Shi CM ’20, the event was an opportunity to conquer his nerves and rap publicly for the first time. The song he chose, “Voice Memo” by PG One, reflected this perfectly.

“The song is about giving people courage,” Shi said. “Sometimes events happen in life where people judge you or have an attitude toward you, and you have to just be chill about it, be cool about it.”

Tom Chenlian Fu HM ’22 closed out the night with a medley of popular American songs from 2019, including Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings,” Billie Eilish’s “When the Party’s Over,” Lana Del Rey’s “Cinnamon Girl” and Taylor Swift’s “Lover”, as well as the popular Chinese songs, “起風了” (“The Song of the Wind”) and “海洋之心” (the Chinese version of “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana”). 

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For Fu, the event was more than just an opportunity to showcase his musical ability, but an opportunity for the Chinese community to find unity in culture.

“This event gathers people together once a year and is important because … China is such a huge country, and its culture should be represented here,” he said. “It’s important for us to have this show to present our culture to both ourselves and other people so we can be proud of our culture.”

Belinda Wang CM ’23, a volunteer for the event, explained that being so far away from her home and family in Guangzhou, China during a holiday this culturally significant can be difficult, but that it’s been made easier through events like the Spring Festival Gala.

“It makes me feel like there’s someone from where I’m from that cares about me and cares about the festival, and everyone can get together,” she said. “When there’s an event like this, it just reminds me of my home.” 

Chris Chung PO ’23, a Chinese-American from Las Vegas, said the event reminded him of happy memories of going to his local Chinatown and watching the parade as a child. It also provided him with a way to connect with his cultural background while being away at college. 

“I think [the gala] is important because it provides a way for members of the community to find a connection to [their] culture from home or [their] cultural background,” he said. 

For many attendees, the 5C Spring Festival Gala was more than just a celebratory break from the monotony of work and classes. It was instead a time to ease back into speaking their native language, to celebrate the biggest holiday of the year and most importantly, a time to be surrounded by a community that feels like home. 

Happy Year of the Rat, and in the words shared by a CSA presenter, I wish you peace, happiness and a good GPA.

Disclaimer: Tao is employed by TSL as a graphic artist.

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