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APASO holds Cultural Vogue to celebrate community

January 29, 2023

APASO's 20th annual Cultural Vogue took place at the Wharton Center on Jan. 28, 2023.

The Asian Pacific American Student Organization, or APASO, hosted its 20th annual Cultural Vogue. The event’s performances celebrated the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American/Asian, or APIDA/A, community’s cultures. 

Each performance was presented by one of APASO’s affiliate groups. Some performances included a lion dance from the Vietnamese Student Association, singing from the Spartan Sur a cappella group, a skit from the Hmong American Student Association, a fashion show from PERMIAS, the Indonesian Student Association and more. 

“(Cultural Vogue) is one of the ways that our organizations … show everyone that we have our own culture, and we do have something that we can offer, and for them to see how different cultures (are), especially for us that are far from back home," Cultural Vogue Affiliate Liaison Nathanael Chuadri said. "We just want to show them this is what we have. This is what our culture is.”

Many of the performances included traditional clothing, music and dances from APIDA/A cultures, reflecting the event’s theme of “Roots Resilience Rebirth.” According to political science junior Megan Smejkal, the Cultural Vogue chair, the theme highlights the APIDA/A community’s connections to their diverse cultures. 

“This year's theme is ‘Roots Resilience Rebirth,’ and the story behind it is to highlight the idea that no matter how much time passes, or how we grow, we're still connected to our roots," Smejkal said. “So the idea that we should be unapologetically ourselves.”

Smejkal also said the theme relates to the APIDA/A community's resilience to oppression in the U.S.

“It's not our fault that people don't like us because of the way we look," Smejkal said. "We can, and we should, fight back for our rights to be able to say, ‘we're here, and we're not going anywhere. We're not just perpetual foreigners. We're not just a model minority stereotype. We're just people. We belong here, and we're going to take up space, and we shouldn't have to apologize for who we are.'” 

Keynote speaker Manjusha P. Kulkarni shared her family’s story of facing job discrimination and other forms of racism upon immigrating to the U.S., which inspired her to co-found Stop AAPI Hate. She also discussed the history of anti-Asian racism, instances of harassment and violence against APIDA/A people, and the rollback of legal rights and protections for people of color. 

Kulkarni said she was hopeful that young people like those at Cultural Vogue would become activated. Kulkarni said that APIDA/A individuals must report hate, stand up and speak out for others, vote and run for office and support organizations.

“Resistance against injustice is in our blood,” Kulkarni said. “Our foremothers and forefathers took part in the largest acts of civil disobedience the world has ever seen. Our ancestors fought against British, French, Spanish, and even American imperialism. Let us use that power and resolve against white supremacy, here and now.”

Members of the APASO e-board also spoke about their experiences as MSU students. They said APIDA/A students are often ignored or forgotten and excluded from resources because they appear to be successful, an effect of the 'model minority' myth. 

E-board member Savitri Anantharaman said the university needs more emergency phones by bus stations, reliable transportation, lighting, funding for students to transfer housing when their safety is at risk and more APIDA/A faculty and staff dedicated to supporting APIDA/A students. 

Connor Le, the APASO representative of the Associated Students of Michigan State University, called for the university to update its donor accountability policies. A video of MSU donor Larry Gaynor’s racist anti-Vietnamese tirade played at the event, calling for MSU to change the name of the Gaynor Entrepreneurship Lab on campus, a decision which Le had advocated for in ASMSU. 

“Student safety will always be second to profit,” Le said. “Hate has no home here unless you can cough up enough money.” 

Reasons such as these are why APASO plans on continuing the tradition for many years to come. 

"It's a way for us to bridge gaps across cultures … so it's a really excellent chance to be able to be proud of our heritage and our culture," Smejkal said. "And it's a way to bring that type of insight and to take a step back  — what you're seeing here, this is us, and we're proud to be here, and we're not going anywhere — but (it’s) also a safe space, and it lets us show people what it means to be Asian without having to go through the rhetoric and the politics, just to have it there on stage. No questions asked.” 

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