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ISSUE 119 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/14/2006

Asia Weeks promote diversity

By Tim Rehborg
Opinion Editor

Friday, April 14, 2006

The weeks of April 9 to April 22 are designated as Asia Weeks, a celebration of Asian and Asian American culture. This year's celebration includes both annual events and some new festivities. Many different organizations are involved with the celebrations, including the Asian Cultures Association (ACA), Hmong and Korean culture groups, Diversity Celebrations Committee (DCC) and Multi-Cultural Affairs and Community Outreach (MACO).

"This year, we want to promote not only Asian issues, but specifically Asian American issues," said ACA co-president Irene Minoei '07. "It's been challenging to incorporate the vast diversity of cultural identities in Asia, and it is more feasible to focus on the Asian American experience, which also applies to more people here at St. Olaf."

A favorite event of Asia Weeks is the fashion show, in which St. Olaf students model many different Asian fashions in a parade through the cafeteria.

"It gives people an idea of what traditional Asian dress looks like - a small way of bringing the diversity of Asian culture to the front of Asia Weeks, stressing how different all the Asian cultures are," said Joelle Momchilovich '07, organizer of this year's show.

In addition to the annual fashion show, St. Olaf's international dance ensemble, Vesilica also created a venue for the celebration of Asian cultures. Enabled by a special grant in Asian Studies, Veselica's performance last weekend specifically focused on Asian dance. The performance included traditional dances from Japan, China, India, the Philippines and many other Asian countries.

Of special note were a Mongolian solo performed by Ting Ting Yang '09 and an Odissi Indian classical solo performed by Ananya Mukhopadhyay '09.

"My dance gives people a taste of traditional Mongolian culture, a culture most people don't know much about," Yang said of the warrior dance.

Mukhopadhyay's dance was less of an educational tool than a personal act. "Dance is more than expression of Indian culture: it's the way I express myself," Mukhopadyay said.

Rice Bowl, hosted on April 11, is a quiz bowl "that focuses on Asian issues," Nicole Jin '09 said. "Categories include famous Asian people, foods, language and geography."

Asia Weeks is sponsoring an Extravaganza, a bazaar of Asian crafts and food, on Thursday in the Buntrock Crossroads. Buddhist monks will also be on campus on Friday to perform a water blessing in Ytterboe Lounge.

Other new events include an Asian American issues dialogue, led by Vanessa Lee '07, as well as an interactive simulation of the Cambodian Killing Fields. This interactive activity will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.

"The process begins with a short history review of the Cambodia massacres," organizer Lily Moua '06 said.

After the introduction, participants will take part in a simulation of the massacres, acted out in the woods behind Rand and Ellingson Halls. Participants will move in family groups, trying to reach safety, chased by "soldiers" and threatened by booby traps and mines. The event includes a processing session afterwards to help participants understand what should be taken away from the simulation.

Asia Weeks ends with a Dragon Dance and a closing banquet, starting in the Crossroads on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. The Dragon Dance is an important part of Chinese cultural celebrations. The dragon, made of colorful cloth and bamboo, is manipulated by dancers, creating an undulating, sinuous movement through the air.

For Minoei, the celebration is essential for both Asians and non-Asians alike.

"Asia Weeks will help people understand the diversity of Asian cultures, as well as the experiences of Asians in America," she said.

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