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Rice students celebrate Lunar New Year

Guillian Paguila / Thresher

By Keegan Leibrock     1/24/23 10:35pm

The Rice Chinese Student Association will host its annual Lunar New Year Gala in person for the first time since 2020 this Saturday, Jan. 28. The Gala, hosted jointly by the CSA and the Vietnamese Student Association, will feature traditional dances, music, creative writing, food and fashion, according to the CSA Instagram.

Jennifer Li, CSA co-president, said that she hopes this year’s in-person celebration will draw a larger audience.

“I’m really excited to have this back in person. I heard from a lot of people the past few years that [they] weren’t aware we had put on a show,” Li, a Baker College senior, said. “Even though we tried really hard to publicize it, it was just harder to advertise and get the word out during the pandemic.”

Mabel Tang, co-president of CSA, said that pre-sale tickets for the event quickly sold out, but tickets will also be sold at the door for $15 the day of the event. 

“We set aside about 300 tickets, and we actually sold out in a couple of days,” Tang, a Hanszen College senior, said. “We offer a subsidized ticket to people who are performing and have worked with the diversity committees from each college to subsidize some tickets … The rest we will sell at the door.”

Besides a series of traditional dances, the event will feature an art gallery showcase in which Asian Rice students will be allowed to display their art of different forms, including paintings, spoken word poetry or other art mediums. Tang said that the gallery is part of a broader effort to give Asian artists a platform.

“Throughout the past couple of years since the pandemic, there has been a lot of anti-Chinese and [anti]-Asian rhetoric,” Tang said. “We wanted to do something before the dances to be able to showcase the talents and resilience of the Asian community, so we reached out via Google form to any creatives who have art that they would like to show to the Rice community.”

Tang said that this year’s in-person format for the Lunar New Year Gala creates a number of new challenges not faced in the past few years.

“Last year, because it was digital, we had to get a videographer to record the entire performance and put it online, and we would organize multiple viewing parties across each college,” Tang said. “This year, the biggest difference is just having to get a live stage, lighting, catering and ticket sales. We actually have to take into account a lot of finances that we didn’t have to worry about previously.”

Newton Huynh, president of the Rice Lions and the VSA, said that he grew up wanting to take part in the Lunar New Year celebratory dances. 

“Because they are so deeply rooted in [my] Vietnamese tradition and culture, I always wanted to be inside one of those lion costumes, but I never really had the chance in my elementary, middle or high school days,” Huynh said. “A couple of years later, I’m here at Rice as the president of this great organization, coaching people how to perform in a lion costume. It’s honestly so surreal.”

Each year, the Rice Lions participate in various Lunar New Year Celebrations on campus. Huynh said that he looks forward to sharing his appreciation for traditional lion dances with the Rice community.

“As a child, I had the privilege of always being able to walk out my doorstep and walk to the nearest neighborhood center during the Lunar New Year and see those lion dance performances, but here at Rice, there are people from all walks of life,” Huynh said. “For some, this will be the first time they get to see a lion dance performance in real-time, and I am so excited to be part of that.”

Outside of Rice events, students celebrate Lunar New Year in a variety of ways. Trinity Le, a Will Rice College sophomore, said that each year she looks forward to going home and spending time with family.

“I went home to celebrate the Lunar New Year. A big part of it is just going to the temple and praying for good luck for the upcoming year,” Le said. “I always look forward to just hanging out with family and wishing my elders good luck and good fortune for the year ahead.”

Jason Nguyen, a Hanszen junior, said that he also enjoys spending time with his family over the Lunar New Year. While away at Rice, he said he FaceTimes them to wish them good health.

“When I’m going away to Rice, my parents will give me a red envelope ahead of time before I leave, and I’ll just tuck it away,” Nguyen said. “Whenever the day comes, I’ll FaceTime them, and they will wish me good fortune before I open the envelope to receive a gift.”

In addition to his celebrations with his family, Nguyen said that he looks forward to working as a photographer for the CSA Lunar New Year Gala.

“I’m really looking forward to getting some pretty cool shots that represent the event,” Nguyen said. “I haven’t seen the event in previous years, but I heard about it, and I’m looking forward to representing [the performers] as best I can via my camera.”

Nguyen said that, to him, one of the best parts of the Lunar New Year is seeing the closeness of the Rice community.

“It’s so cool to see how each Asian culture at Rice comes together. I like seeing how tight each of the student bodies are,” Nguyen said. “All of these Asian communities — VSA, CSA, [Korean Student Association] — all arranging their own different things, and I think that speaks a lot to how welcoming the Rice community is for all these different groups to be so comfortable with sharing their culture.”

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