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Asian American Student Association brings traditional performances to Chapel Hill


UNC's Flying Silk performing classical Chinese dance at Journey into Asia in February 2018.

Photo courtesy of June Yom

Next week, Asian-Pacific Islander students will come together for Journey Into Asia – the largest showcase of API culture on campus. 

The event is put on by the Asian American Students Association and allows API organizations and individuals to share their cultural heritage through dance, a capella and solo performances. 

Some of the groups performing include UNC Flying Silk, Kasama, Duke Chinese Dance and UNC Ek Taal and others. 

The theme of this year’s Journey Into Asia is disORIENT. June Yom, cultural chairperson of AASA, said the theme was inspired by the concept of Orientalism, which challenges the West’s perceptions of the East as 'other' and inferior. 

“I wanted to literally disorient those misconceptions and those misrepresentations of the so-called orient or the other,” Yom said. “And because JIA is such a large platform and because those misconceptions are very evident in today’s society, that’s what I wanted to develop my theme across.”

Each performance has been created to reflect the theme. This year, a video will introduce each performer, explaining how their performance matches the theme, as well as sharing stereotypes they’ve experienced. 

UNC Ek Taal will be performing Bharatnatyam, a classical Indian dance, which tells stories from Hindu religion. They will be performing a Hindu story but with a twist. Rather than telling the story from the protagonist’s perspective, they’ll be telling it from the antagonist’s perspective. 

Gayathri Das, co-captain of UNC Ek Taal, said the performance explains the concept of dharma. 

“We try to take a concept from our culture that is kind of obscure but portray it in a way that is more accessible to audiences,” Das said. 

She said their performance fits the theme by displaying the Bharatnatyam form of storytelling. She said Bharatnatyam has specific costumes and dance movements such as hand gestures, rapid eye and foot movement and facial expressions that reflect the culture. 

“So basically enforcing the idea that just because something comes from a different culture doesn’t necessarily mean that it is any less of a valid storytelling mechanism than any mechanism that exists in the West,” Das said. 

UNC Flying Silk will also be performing a dance. Its style of classical Chinese dance includes fans and ribbons.

First-year student Pearl Dang said its performance will be a combination of traditional and modern and of grace and strength. 

This is Dang’s first time participating in Journey Into Asia. She said she thinks it's good for everyone to see all of the different traditions and cultures that JIA showcases. 

Kathrine Soliman, an AASA cultural committee member, is also participating in JIA for the first time. She, along with cultural committee members Allene Xing and Christine Gao, helped Yom to organize the event. 

Soliman said she’s excited to see how the show turns out, and that she hopes the audience enjoys it and takes something away from it.

“It’s just a way to show that we face some struggles in our lives, and there’s stigmas around being Asian,” Soliman said. “But we’re proud of our culture, and we don’t want the stereotypes to define us, and so this is our way of expressing ourselves and expressing our true identities.” 

Yom said that, while the event is Asian-Pacific Islander focused, it is not exclusively for API students.

“It is there so that it can empower API students to express their cultural heritage and for allies to advocate for their histories and stories,” Yom said. “But it’s also for non-API members to come and enjoy the diversity that this multicultural world has to offer.” 

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