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Cultural festival promotes diversity and acceptance in 2014

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Fresh off the success of last year’s show dealing with the intersection of homosexual and Asian identities, Washington University’s Lunar New Year Festival continues its trend of productions probing more serious aspects of the Asian-American experience. This year’s show explores collegiate Asian-American identity formation through the lens of its college-aged protagonists struggling with the implications of adoption and growing up in an Asian-American household.

Senior Grace Wey, one of the show’s co-directors, explained that many Asians face a sort of identity crisis in the United States and the show provides them with an outlet to address it.

“There is an identity crisis that a lot of Asians feel whether or not they were born in America or in a completely traditional Asian background. Though you look Asian, you may not always feel that way,” Wey said.

“Recently, we have taken a move toward addressing social justice and issues that have been facing Asian-Americans,” senior Ben Chu, the group’s other co-director, said of LNYF’s evolution. “Last year, our skit addressed the topic of sexuality in an Asian context but also with broader implications.”

As the show’s co-directors, Wey and Chu are responsible for running the show with the help of 20 executive board members and overseeing more than 100 performers spread across 14 acts including martial arts, juggling, hula dancing, water sleeves, SamulNori and Tinikling. Skit scenes addressing Asian identities are interspersed among the dances.

“LNYF is a cultural performance group run completely by students and formed completely by students as a way for us to showcase East Asian culture and our heritage,” Wey said. “The performers are not all Asian, though—anyone can try out. And one key thing that also sets us apart is that we have a philanthropic mission.”

This year, LNYF has chosen to raise funds for Pencils for Promise through its T-shirt and food sales. Pencils for Promise, a nonprofit founded in 2008 by Adam Braun, aims to increase educational opportunities in the developing world by constructing schools. Last year, LNYF partnered with Half the Sky and China Care Home to help provided medical care to orphans in China.

Within the show itself, LNYF is also working to form a cohesive identity between its groups. Many of the seniors who graduated last spring were highly involved in LNYF, so the new execs have met the challenges their predecessors’ graduation has brought.

“We have a lot of different ages this year because last year we had a lot of seniors leave. This [year] has definitely switched back to a younger generation of LNYFers. It has been nice to see them really kind of take the reigns,” Chu said.

Darron Su, a sophomore participating in the Wushu portion of the martial arts event, explained that even for an individual who is a new performer in the festival, the environment is still a warm and inclusive one.

“Honestly, I don’t know exactly what LNYF was like last year, but I do know that everyone is extremely supportive,” Su said. “In fact, one of last year’s martial artists who graduated either a year or two ago had come back to coach us and give us advice. He literally has the sexiest acrobatic kicks that I have ever seen.”

This year also saw a new effort to bridge intergroup cohesion. Each of the 14 performance groups was paired with another to create “brother-sister” groups that got to know one another through acts of kindness.

“We baked [another group] cookies and cupcakes, and in return they gave us bags filled with Asian goodies. It’s definitely a great way to connect with people outside our own performers,” Su said.

Once involved in LNYF, many performers find themselves returning for subsequent years, creating a community-based cornerstone of their undergraduate experience.

“I have always wanted to be in LNYF. I tried out my freshman year and didn’t make it, but then tried out as a sophomore and have since then been involved and [have] grown in my role in it,” Wey said. “It is just really cool to see the fruition not just of my work but also of the work of everybody put together. It is nice to see everybody work hard and really form a community.”

“The biggest thing for me is seeing the underclassmen be the majority performing and know that we are leaving it in good hands after this year.” Chu said.

“It’s cool to think that in about two years, they will be us. There are a lot of alums and families coming, and so we are excited to put on the best possible show for them.”

“I think the show itself will be an epic culmination of all our hard work,” Su said. “Honestly, I just can’t wait to show everyone the results of what we’ve been working on. Everyone in the group has been giving it their all, developing their skills and sharpening their routines. It’ll be exciting to perform in front of both friends and strangers alike.”

The shows will be held in Edison Theatre at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 31 and on 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1.

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