This weekend, as leaders of the Chinese American Students Association, my co-president and I helped to coordinate a joint Lunar New Year celebration. We worked alongside the Taiwanese American Society, the Vietnamese Students Association, the Korean American Students of Yale and the Japanese American Students Union. Three weeks ago, our boards banded together to formulate what we called a “Red Envelope Market,” in which our guests would play cultural games in exchange for foods like mochi ice cream, tteokbokki, scallion pancakes and more. To our boards, Lunar New Year was a crucial time for all of us to work as a united Asian-American group, as well as invite our fellow students to celebrate our traditions.
However, one hour before the event this Saturday, our Facebook feeds were flooded with live streams from JFK International Airport. Trump’s executive order banning refugees and suspending travel from seven Muslim-majority countries had caused 20 refugees to be detained at JFK. The campus dynamic transformed instantly, and one of the ViSA co-presidents pointed out that perhaps it was pertinent to move the Lunar New Year event an hour back. I was instantly flooded with a selfish sort of fear: If we moved our event, would anyone come? And if we didn’t, would our group’s failure to acknowledge the refugee crisis perpetuate the stereotype of Asian political complacency? And more so, would we be doing our values an irreparable disservice by not openly standing in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters on campus and beyond? In the end, we reached a compromise: We would not move the event time but transform it from fun to fundraiser.
As other board members scurried to pick up food and prepare our space, I rushed to craft a statement that would express our feelings concerning the recent events. “We stand in solidarity with the demonstrators currently protesting the detainment and refusal of refugees from the United States of America,” part of the statement read. “We hope that on this day of celebration and generosity, you will stand together with us in taking action against this recent violation of human rights and American integrity.” The statement included information about a joint fund for the refugee crisis. Printed flyers in hand, I ran to the space in time to help open the Red Envelope Marketplace.
A queue had already filled the room outside. Standing in the center of waiting students, my friend and I yelled over the crowd. I thanked everyone and wished them a very happy Year of the Rooster; my friend and co-president of ViSA announced our support of the refugee crisis. She urged each guest to donate a few dollars to our fund to support the Students of Salaam, a group dedicated to refugee assistance and resettlement in New Haven. Our words were met with nods and applause, and the doors opened. Over the next two hours, over 300 students came to eat and play games for the Lunar New Year.
Walking out of the event that evening with the crumpled statement flyers in my hands, I felt that our celebration had not simply succeeded — it had made a difference. Because of the ViSA co-president’s quick thinking and suggestions, all of us were reminded that even in times of celebration, injustice cannot be overlooked. The most important thing about an event is not how seamlessly it runs, or even how many people show up — what matters most is its effect on those who attended. Did they learn something? Did they smile? And most crucially: At the end of the night, did they care?
Taking in all the laughter and excitement at the Red Envelope Market this weekend, I know my peers cared about — or at least appreciated — our different Asian-American traditions. Even more importantly, the spirit of solidarity that coursed through our celebration that night allowed for the creation of a joint refugee fund, one that could not have existed without the care of our classmates. As CASA and ViSA continue correspondence with Students of Salaam about a collective Lunar New Year donation, I cannot help but feel that it is moments like these — moments when people come together not only to honor traditions, but also to stand for a cause — that are truly worth celebrating. After all, regardless of our backgrounds, we are all Americans. Chinese-Americans, Vietnamese-Americans, Muslim-Americans. With this identity comes the responsibility to appreciate each other’s traditions, as well as stand up for each other in times of struggle.
Catherine Yang is a sophomore in Trumbull College. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays. She is the co-president of the Chinese American Students Association. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .