Sunday night, two Ohio University cultural organizations, PERMIAS and Southeast Asian Students Association, or SEASA, hosted Southeast Asian Night, an event that promoted the awareness of Southeast Asian culture through entertaining performances and informative teachings.
After nearly a decade, Southeast Asian Night was held once again at OU, sharing the culture of Southeast Asia with its students, faculty members and Athens residents. About 200 visitors came to the event located in Baker Ballroom, where numerous dances were performed that were symbolic to many Southeast Asian countries.
The hallways outside the ballroom were lined with various artifacts and Southeast Asian art, representing the complexity and beauty of the culture and welcoming the guests inside to partake in the ceremony.
The food provided was catered by Dr. May’s Thai Kitchen and Happy Indonesia and consisted of dishes such as pad thai, papaya salad and chicken satay. The event drew an attentive crowd, all of whom were invited to eat the traditional Southeast Asian food and test their knowledge of Southeast Asia through trivia.
Regina Yoong, a doctorate student studying American literature, was one of the emcees for the event. Yoong expressed that the importance of holding an event like this in Athens helps to illuminate the culture of Southeast Asia into the area.
“Southeast Asia is so far away from Athens, Ohio,” Yoong said. “So it’s as if having this event is almost bringing Southeast Asia into this small town. By sharing the food, sharing the different cultures, the jokes, the dances and the songs, (it) is all really special.”
There were numerous performances throughout the celebration, each commemorating different regions in Southeast Asia and representing the enriched culture present within the particular country. The dances included a traditional Balinese dance, a Thai modern dance, a Cambodian scarf dance, a Philippine ethnic dance and a Sudanese kacapi performance.
Alongside these demonstrative performances, the celebration also included a dance from Laos entitled “Lamvong Saravan,” which encouraged the guests to participate and engage in the dance motions as well.
Mel Sirikul, a sophomore studying chemistry pre-pharmacy, performed in the Thai modern dance, a dance set to Thai country music. Sirikul said the song, which is about the singer reflecting on her infatuation with her admirer, is a combination of two distinct styles of music in Thailand.
“That type of song is a Thai country dance, and it’s very popular in the countryside as opposed to the central part of Thailand,” Sirikul said. “So within its sound, the song is a byproduct of western influence and pop influence.”
For Sirikul, the song is symbolic to her own childhood as well as the upbringings of other Thai children alike.
“It’s very significant for me because my parents are immigrants from Thailand, and I am the first one born in America,” Sirikul said. “So I was exposed to both pop and traditional styles as a child. So the song represents what’s happening for Thai children in the world who are getting pop elements from the west and then still having their own cultural influence in the song.”
Sianna Mills, a sophomore studying journalism and criminology, attended the event to see Sirikul perform. Mills emphasized that the continued celebration of different cultures is imperative due to the university’s diverse student population.
“We have to remember that there’s not just one type of person that’s at a university,” Mills said. “So we need to continue to cater to that and have events that showcase different cultures.”
Sirikul believes that in sharing her culture with her peers, she can outwardly showcase her pride for her country and create a more meaningful connection to Southeast Asian countries.
“You always hear about China and Japan and Korea, which is fine, but you don’t really hear about these Southeast Asian countries as much,” Sirikul said. “But I am very proud of my Thai culture, and I find it very beautiful, so I just hope I can help people to see Thailand as something deeper.”