By Dax Duong
On Saturday, April 6th in Dinkelspiel Auditorium, the Stanford Vietnamese Student Association (SVSA) put on Culture Night, an annual event that celebrates and showcases Vietnamese culture. When I arrived, I was greeted by enthusiastic SVSA members who handed me a program and invited me into the auditorium. The stage was cast in colorful mood lighting, and Vietnamese pop music played loudly, its beats mingling with the buzzing excitement of the gathering crowd to create an atmosphere of eager anticipation.
This year’s theme was “Để Lại Để Giữ Gìn,” which is loosely translated as “leave something behind in order to preserve it.” This theme plays a large part in the student-written play that the event revolved around. The main character, Kim Tran (Kimberly Tran, ‘22), returns home after graduating from business school to support her mother, grandmother and the failing family restaurant after the death of her grandfather. As she grapples with the seemingly imminent doom of the treasured restaurant and her doubts about her own future, she encounters old friends Winston (Jimmy Le, ‘22) and Erica (Emily Cang, ‘20). Her interactions with her family and friends, especially Erica, heighten the guilt she feels about the sacrifices they made to get her to business school, and the pressure she feels to be successful because of those sacrifices.
Ultimately, she realizes that in order to preserve the restaurant, she must renovate it — and in doing so, leave a part of it behind. In the end, everything works out: Kim saves the restaurant, mends her relationship with Erica and learns to let go of the guilt and pressure that had so heavily weighed her down. I could empathize with Kim’s agonizing struggle trying to balance differing opinions about what she should do with her future, but mostly, watching the play made me miss my own family, and I felt grateful for all of the support and unconditional love that they have given me.
Between the scenes of the play were various performances, which included Vietnamese dancing, singing and fashion that elegantly blended traditional and modern styles. The first performance was a “Modern Fan Dance,” featuring dancers wielding red and purple silk fans with small frills that billowed like betta fish tails as they sailed through the air. The next performance — a traditional dance — was performed in áo dài (Vietnamese national garment) with nón lá (conical hats) and paper umbrellas as props. Sometime in between the performances, a trio, which included a singer, beatboxer, and guitarist, performed a song in Vietnamese. There was also a fashion show during which models dressed in áo dài walked gracefully across the stage to an upbeat EDM remix of Vietnamese pop music, each pausing center stage to strike a pose that evoked cheers and applause from the crowd. The áo dài were colorful, flowing dresses that swayed to and fro with each purposeful stride. The last performance was a couples’ dance that, according to the event’s program, “represent[s] our characters’ enduring love for each other, as well as their ongoing relationship with their hometowns.” The choreography included playful moves and warm embraces, and told a story that felt like it was pulled right out of a romantic comedy.
SVSA Culture Night was a great way of bringing people together to celebrate Vietnamese culture, and this communal bonding was most embodied by the events immediately after the show, when audience members and performers got to mingle while enjoying Vietnamese food. Just a few moments after I had gotten out of my seat, a kind-looking woman offered me a bánh da lợn, a layered jello-like mung bean dessert. She was the mother of one of the performers (Angela Chau, ‘22) and had made two trays of desserts for the event. I took one — which was delicious — and wandered out of the venue to check out the rest of the food. After jostling with the crowd for a few minutes, I managed to take a pork bánh mì (Vietnamese baguette sandwich) from the spread and soon found myself in a conversation with a couple of people I had never talked to before. But talking with them then was easy, and the energy and sense of community that filled the room made me feel so inspired and at home.
I was moved by the beauty and richness of my culture. I was moved by the desire of others to learn more about a culture that was not theirs. And I was moved by how these different communities coming together represented a shared aspiration of keeping cultures alive by sharing them with others — contributing to a more enriched, understanding society in the process. SVSA Culture night is an event that builds bridges between generations and communities, and I hope it continues to preserve and inspire for many years to come.