The Claremont Colleges celebrated the incoming Year of the Horse on Jan. 31 with a Chinese New Year banquet at Claremont McKenna College’s McKenna Auditorium. The banquet was organized by the Chinese Student Association (CSA) and co-sponsored by the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) at Claremont Graduate University, I-Place at CMC, and Pomona College’s Oldenborg Center. Event organizers also received funding from other sources at the Claremont Colleges and the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles.
The sold-out event featured Chinese food, performances, and games for approximately 330 guests, according to CSA President and event coordinator Bai Xue CM ’16.
The festively decorated auditorium was draped in string lights, lanterns, and banners. In addition to the banquet dinner, the event featured a wide array of entertainment, including a student-made movie trailer, covers of popular songs, and a jazz dance routine. While some performances were improvisational, all were generally successful and entertaining. The audience enthusiastically cheered for their friends performing on stage while eating fried rice, pizza, and orange chicken.
For program coordinators, it was a challenge to execute the event just two weeks after returning from winter break. Xue returned to campus early to secure co-sponsorships and funding for the event.
She spoke about the importance of the banquet in providing a taste of home for international students.
“For students from China and many other East Asian countries that celebrate Chinese New Year at home, we hope this event will help relieve their homesickness,” Xue wrote in an email to TSL. “For others, this will be a great opportunity to be exposed to Chinese culture.”
The banquet is unique because it blends the historic customs of a hugely important cultural holiday with American contemporary culture.
“You’ll see traditional stuff and modern things; it’s a mix of bringing the old into the new and keeping some good traditions even as you do new things,” said Ken Benesh, a librarian at the Honnold/Mudd Library, who has performed three times at the celebration.
Kwali Liggons CM ’16 also appreciated the mix of cultures.
“It’s cool to see American songs in Chinese performances,” Liggons said about a dance routine to the Chinese and English version of “We Run the Night” by Havana Brown featuring Pitbull.
Some acts were more traditional, such as the Chinese classical dance performance.
“[The dance] was based on an ancient poem written by a famous Chinese poet, so the movements are very slow and traditional,” said Wanning Chen PO ’16, who practiced the routine with friends for two months before the celebration.
For many who do not typically celebrate Chinese New Year in a traditional manner, it was a chance to experience the holiday in a new way.
“When I went into it I really didn’t know what to expect,” Catherine Dugan PO’15 said. “I’ve had a big family dinner, but we never did any cultural things, like watch any Chinese performances or anything like that.”
For those who do celebrate it, especially international students from Asian countries where parades, dragon dances, and firecrackers during the holiday are commonplace, it can be quite the adjustment coming to the Claremont Colleges, where the holiday passes with less fanfare. But the Chinese New Year at the colleges still provides an opportunity to celebrate the holiday with others.
“It’s very important to us,” Chen said. “It’s like Christmas in America.”