Even if April can’t break Northwest Indiana into warmer weather, the Asian American Student Association at Indiana University Northwest apparently has plans to, judging by the buzz and energy that filled the Gary campus’ student center for the university’s Asia Day event.
Hundreds of students shuffled in and out of the Moraine Student Center Thursday afternoon as they enjoyed free helpings of authentic Indian food, while being surrounded by a wide array of Asian American-themed arts and performances, including Indian folk dancing, dhol drumming, henna tattoos, a “Knowing Korea” presentation, and so much more.
“It’s all about cultural awareness,” said Dr. Surekha Rao, a professor of economics at IUN. With Vidya Arshanapalli, a senior lecturer at IUN in the computer informations systems department, Dr. Rao spearheaded the event with help from the Asian American Student Association.
“Today we live in a globalized world, and in this 21st century, knowing about other cultures is an asset,” Rao said. “Even though we are a smaller school, we want to make sure the students get to know the world, and that there shouldn’t be any fear.”
One of the performances that made quite an impression came from Ajay Randhawa, who goes by the stage name of JumpinGenres. Randhawa traveled from Chicago with his dhol drum - a double-sided barrel drum with South Asian origins - to inject life and energy into the Asia Day celebration, tempting even the most flat-footed attendees to get up and hit the dance floor.
“I think music has the power to bring different communities together, because it doesn’t discriminate or look at your skin color or ideologies.” said Randhawa, who began his musical journey after his parents sent him to boarding school in the Himalayas when he was in fifth grade. After learning how to play a variety of unique instruments, Randhawa came back to the States in 2000 and adopted the name JumpinGenres, a pseudonym that has allowed him to create his own style of sound that blends a variety of genres.
“There’s no segregation in music, and the power it holds is so strong,” Randhawa said. “So when we showcase Indian music or music from other cultures, it shows that we’re all in this together, and it unites us.”
One of the other acts that rivaled the energy of JumpinGenres was Laughter Yoga, led by Guru Tanaz Bamboat. Encouraging members of the audience to form a circle around her, Bamboat instructed the attendees to partake in somewhat awkward - though effective - exercises that induced ripples of laughter throughout the student center.
“When I was younger, I was diagnosed as bipolar, and there were periods that I would go through deep depression,” said Bamboat, who immigrated from India to the U.S. about 30 years ago. “But when I got to know about laughter yoga, I found the joy come back to me, because when you laugh, your body gets healthier. And I loved that and I wanted to share that joy with others.”
Toward the end of the event, Rao took the microphone to introduce the Asia Day Fashion Show, which included nearly 50 students adorned in brightly-colored traditional Indian outfits, all walking down a small makeshift catwalk. After each pair was through, the students-turned-models capped off the afternoon with an impromptu dance party, led by a DJ who had evidently done his homework in compiling a perfect blend of Asian pop music.
"I really love this event, I’ve been participating in it every year since I was a freshman,” said Ishani Sharma, a senior at IUN, and co-president of the Asian American Student Association. Sharma was also one of the models in the fashion show, donning a flowy navy blue top and trousers, accented by a pink scarf around her right shoulder.
“We live in a country of immigrants, where everybody came from another country, and so in today’s age where we see a lot of racism or ethnocentrism, I think it’s important that people realize that there are other cultures besides just the American or Western culture,” Sharma said. “Yes, everyone has been assimilated into that culture, but we have to learn that everyone also has their unique identities that make them who they are.”
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