BY GABBY RAYMOND '20
On Feb. 24, the Vietnamese Student Association hosted their annual cultural show. The event dinner was catered by the Miss Saigon restaurant in Amherst; and dinner was followed by performances from various VSA members. Each performance was centered around the geometrical lotus flower, the organization’s symbol for this year. By modernizing the traditional flower of Viet- nam, the group hoped to show that “Vietnam is keeping its culture [alive] while improving in a developing econo- my,” said Lauren Nguyen ’20.
Since the organization’s establishment in 2003, the VSA has been trying to bring the essence of Vietnamese culture to the students of Mount Holyoke through a num- ber of free events each semester, culminating with the cultural show in the spring. During the fall semester, the VSA hosted the Moon Cake Showcase and the Vietnam- ese Coffee event. “Our goal is to embrace diversity and amnesty. Mount Holyoke is all about bringing diversity to the world, so we host our events in the spirit of the col- lege,” said Linh Nguyen ’19, a VSA board member.
In keeping with the theme of cultural diversity and awareness, the show attempted to debunk certain stereo- types about Vietnamese culture. “Before my American friend met me, she thought all Vietnamese people wore traditional Vietnamese clothes. Our show is to dem- onstrate to people we are also citizens of the modern world,” Lauren Nguyen said. Her performance exempli- fied the sentiments she expressed — she played “Glad You Came” by The Wanted on the Vietnamese zither, a traditional 17-stringed instrument.
The theme of exploring modern themes through a traditional lens was demonstrated in the original skit that the VSA members performed. Set during Lunar New Year, the organization recreated the traditional story of Ong Tao, the kitchen fairy that goes to heaven to make a report to the Jade Emperor about the family affairs for the year. The VSA version of the myth featured three kitchen fairies reporting to the Jade king about various problems Vietnam is dealing with as it continues to mod- ernize, including areas of the ocean made toxic by indus- trial waste, the controversial debate regarding capitaliz- ing on the beauty of the untouched Son Doong Cave in theinterest of tourism and even whether the country should continue the costly celebration of the Lunar New Year.
“This is our biggest event of the year and everyone was so excited to bring Vietnamese culture to Mount Holyoke — while we focus on the beauty of our culture with music, food and dance, it is important to talk about our current social problems too,” said Linh Nguyen. Showing Vietnam through their own eyes was important to the VSA, who wanted to provide more than just a beau- tiful show. “This year we tried to depict a real picture of Vietnam. The picture of us in the U.S. has always been a paddy field and delicate beauty. We wanted to expand beyond the stereotypes,” Lauren Nguyen said.