BC Clubs Host Tea Ceremony to Celebrate Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Courtesy of Kate Dempsey

By Kate Dempsey


   A fiery red dragon wove in and out of the crowd of Brooklyn College students as they made their way through campus, the sound of gongs and drums drawing the beast out. This performance, among others, was part of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Tea Ceremony held on April 7. The tea ceremony is just one of many celebrations scheduled for the month, which include events from the wide range of Asian America and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Clubs at BC. 

   The clubs that helped to organize the tea ceremony are as follows: Korean Culture Club (KCC), the Pakistani Student Association (PSA), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Desi Culture Club (DCC), CUNY Uzbek Society, Bangladeshi Student Association (BSA), American Central Asian Association (ACAA), the Dream Team, Bridges for Yemen, The Exchange, Asian Student Alliance (ASA), The Women’s Center, and the BC AANAPISI [Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Serving Institute] Project (BCAP). 

   The goal, according to organizers, was to have a plethora of clubs sign on to organize the tea ceremony to highlight the diverse range of people from the AAPI diaspora. This entailed the representation of all areas of Asia: East Asia, Central Asia, Desi, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and West Asia. This was the first time all AAPI clubs on campus came together in a shared celebration of heritage. 

   “The term ‘Asian’ is extremely broad. Asians share common traditions. However, as individuals we are all different and unique,” said Lexi Bakyt, president of ACAA. “Our goal was to be respectful, inclusive and entertaining. Asia is a very broad region that is filled with diversity, customs, and traditions that many are unaware of. The event was created to celebrate all of us, through music, food, and tea.” 

   As BC students made their way into the ceremony, they were first greeted with a teacup as a gesture of hospitality, respect, and friendship. The Tow Atrium was adorned with lotus flowers, while tables representing different AAPI diasporas handed out tea and food from their respective cultures. 

    “A tea ceremony holds a huge significance as tea is heavily shared all over Asia. Tea helps with a lot of factors such as maintaining concentration over a long period, symbolizes hospitality, helps with a lot of other aspects of health as well as bringing one together in terms of socialization,” said Paula Chewy, vice president of KCC. “A tea ceremony was decided as it teaches good characteristics such as promoting wellbeing, mindfulness, and harmony.”

   Tea holds special significance to those in the diaspora: each is made in the same way, but features a unique twist that enhances the beverage enjoyed by countless people around the world.

   “Tea originated in Asia, and different regions have their own variety of tea,” said Joan Joseph, vice president of DCC. “It’s a great way to highlight the uniqueness of each culture from the way they use the same ingredient.”

   Ceremony performances included the dragon from the NYC Chinese Freemasons Athletics Club, the Zerd Buryat Mongol Ensemble–which included artists using the traditional morin khuur bowed string instrument–and the Freedom Dabka Group, who towards the end of the ceremony led the crowd in a group lesson and performance. Dancers from the BSA also led a Bengali Dance to songs used in Bengali New Year celebrations while adorned in traditional dresses. To the Bengali performers, it was a moment to shine a spotlight on one of the many dance forms in the Asian diaspora.

   “Showcasing as a visual is very important. Especially like we’re all wearing colorful clothes, that’s part of our culture,” Tunazzina Sakal, a Bengali dance performer and president of BSA, told The Vanguard. “[It] is a great opportunity to just come together, finally show our culture rather than just like a broad South Asian culture.”

   Emphasizing the individual cultures that make up the AAPI groups is an important first step for the organizers of the event. Advocating for the recognition of their culture ensures that the individual community’s history and needs are heard. 

   “I think it’s very important to understand the history, and when we talk about the Asian diaspora we don’t just mean the big well-known countries like China, Japan, India, etc. We are talking about including all of Asia, especially the commonly forgotten Pacific Islanders,” said Chewy. 

   To other organizers of the ceremony, the category of AAPI also stands as a testament to acknowledge their contributions to society, and to be a uniting force for the larger diaspora at a time when communities within it are facing oppression. 

   “BC students should know and understand the diversity within the Asian and Pacific Islander diaspora encompassing a vast array of cultures, languages, histories, and experiences,” Rabia Asif, director of events for PSA, told The Vanguard. “They should recognize the significant contributions of AAPI communities to society across all fields while also being aware of the challenges and discrimination faced by those within these communities.”

   Among the initiatives at BC working to provide more inclusive education about the Asian diaspora is the newly-formed BC AANAPISI Project (BCAP). The project is a five-year grant funded by the Department of Education eligible for universities with 10% or more AAPI-identifying students. According to Christopher Won, program director of BCAP, BC’s AAPI population makes up 25% of the total student body making BC eligible to develop the project. 

   “BCAP has three main objectives. Academic affairs and curriculum, with the hopes of establishing an Asian American Studies program. Culturally responsive services via our office, with peer mentoring, multilingual writing tutoring, and socio-emotional resources. Leadership and community engagement, with research internships and opportunities both internally and with local agencies and organizations,” Won told The Vanguard.

   Student leaders from the diaspora stressed that the goals of AAPI Heritage Month do not end once May ends, and that there needs to be continuous education and celebration of the diverse diaspora. BC students are welcome to continue learning more about the culture by visiting the clubs or attending the many events that they offer.

   “This is truly the time to dive deep and understand the Asian diaspora as a whole, but it is not just restricted to just this month,” said Chewy. “There is always time to learn about Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders.”


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