UNT students celebrate and share cultures ahead of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month

Wednesday, May 1, 2024 - 08:48
Students pose after a water fight at the Songkran Water Festival
Students pose after a water fight at the Songkran Water Festival

DENTON (UNT), Texas — Students at the University of North Texas organized and attended multiple cultural celebrations ahead of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, which occurs annually each May.

May was officially designated Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month — which is also referred to as Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, or Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Heritage Month — by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. The commemorative month recognizes the traditions, cultures and accomplishments of Asian and Pacific Americans living in the United States. May was chosen to mark the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants on American soil in 1843. It also commemorates the contributions of Chinese immigrants to the country’s first transcontinental railroad, which was completed in May 1869.

“During this auspicious month, we remember the contributions our forefathers made,” said Adrian Tam, a master’s student in the Department of Communication Studies.

Tam, who is also president of the UNT International Student Advisory Board, was a primary organizer of the inaugural Songkran Water Festival at UNT. Originating from Thailand, the festival commemorates the Thai New Year, symbolizing new beginnings and placing a profound emphasis on water — a cherished element in numerous Southeast Asian cultures.

Many attendees participated in “water fights” on the University Union’s South Lawn, tossing water balloons and drenching each other with hoses and water spray toys. Others observed the fun while sipping complimentary Thai tea.

“The festival celebrates water, which is deeply intertwined with South Asia’s rich agricultural tradition of rice cultivation in expansive paddy fields,” Tam said. “It’s considered a blessing to receive water and to celebrate water.”

The Pakistani Student Association, whose goal is to promote and educate the UNT community on Pakistani culture through workshops and events, hosted a mock mehndi night at the Gateway Center. Usually observed as one part of a multi-day wedding celebration, the mehndi ceremony is named for the traditional art of body painting with plant-based dyes.

Students at the Pakistani Student Association's mock mehndi event
Students at the Pakistani Student Association's mock mehndi event

Aima Akmal, president of the student group, described the event as “a vibrant and immersive experience in Pakistani culture, offering a taste of the traditional mehndi ceremony in a fun and inclusive setting.”

Attendees enjoyed upbeat Pakistani music and participated in dances like the bhangra and the mehndi dance. Authentic foods were served, including biryani, kebabs and kheer. Organizers decorated the Gateway Center with traditional fabrics in bright, celebratory colors.

“Beyond the cultural activities, it was also a platform for attendees to socialize, network and forge connections with other students,” said Akmal, a senior studying biology with a minor in chemistry, on a path to become a physician assistant. “It was a testament to our commitment to promoting cultural awareness and understanding on campus.”

K-pop dancers perform at the Korean Culture Exchange Spring Festival
K-pop dancers perform at the Korean Culture Exchange Spring Festival

At the Library Mall, the Korean Culture Exchange (KCE) drew a sizeable crowd for its Spring Festival. Members of the KCE set up tables with educational materials, inviting attendees to sample candy, sign up for a raffle and take time to learn about Korean culture.

“KCE started because both Korean students and non-Korean students wanted to come together to show appreciation for Korean culture and exchange cultures,” said JeannieLyn Ruiz, president of the KCE and a master’s student studying library science. “Our meetings are places for people to hyper-fixate on different aspects of Korean culture.”

KCE members have opportunities to research and present on topics they’re passionate about, like fashion, language, food or any other interest. Many members also participate in performances and cultural activities. The Spring Festival featured martial arts demonstrations, traditional Korean dances and choreographed dances by K-pop fan groups.

Ruiz explains that cultural exchange isn’t just a fun activity; it also can build a sense of belonging and connection to one’s identity.

“I’m Filipino-American, and while growing up in the U.S., I felt disconnected from my Filipino heritage,” Ruiz said. “However, as I became interested in Korean culture and started learning Korean, I also took the initiative to learn Tagalog. It’s helped me reconnect with my own culture.”

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