Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
On Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, students and members of the Swarthmore Community gathered in Upper Tarble to dine and experience a Night With Stars. This was the CIA Week Showcase, one of the many events held as a part of Culture and Identity Appreciation (CIA) Week, which started on Oct. 24th with the CIA Week Kickoff, and will end on Nov. 5th with an event in the Scheuer Room regarding Toxic Masculinity.
The events in CIA week have been organized through a concerted effort by a multitude of cultural and identity groups on campus along with the Student Government Organization (SGO). Its origins go back a short way, conceived last year during the fall semester of 2016. The concept sprouted, according to a previous article from the Daily Gazette, from a conversation between current SGO Co-President Josephine Hung ‘19 and Shivani Gupta ‘19. Gupta mentioned an event at her high school called International Weekend, which provided an opportunity for students and faculty to share and experience their myriad cultures.
The CIA Week Showcase started at 5pm. Food lined the side of the room, and large, impressive drums were set up in the back for Taiko, Swarthmore’s Taiko drumming group, to use later in the event.
The Showcase started with a performance from Offbeat, Swarthmore’s newest a cappella group. They first performed the song La La La by Naughty Boy, then progressed to the mesmerizing You Know I’m No Good, by Amy Winehouse.
Alexis Riddick ‘20 then spoke briefly and introduced the dance group Mayuri, a Tri-Co South Asian fusion dance group. As the dance progressed and the music gained energy, the audience joined in and clapped along to the performance.
After the performance, attendees lined up to enjoy a plentitude of pancakes and sausages, provided by the Springfield Diner located at Baltimore Pike. As everyone ate and conversed, a projector screen was rolled out and a video entitled ‘Humans of Swat,’ inspired partially by Humans of New York, began to play. Various students and individuals of Swarthmore were depicted. Some spoke about their own identities and the complexities involved therein.
“It’s not simple,” one student, who chose to remain anonymous, commented.
After a brief interlude, Assistant Professor of Chinese Peng Xu and Hung performed a Chinese Opera piece from the mid-16th century. After the piece was finished, the audience clapped and cheered, to which Xu commented, “When I heard the audience cheering after my singing, I felt happy. It means a lot to a new junior faculty member.”
Xu said that the song was “an aria from a long play entitled The Precious Swords.” It was, according to Xu, a story published by Li Kaixian about a hero named Lin Chong Xu. Xu further elaborated that the genre of the song is called “Kunqu opera,” one of China’s “‘intangible cultural heritages’ bestowed by UNESCO in 2001.”
“I inherited the opera from my master before I left China for the U.S.” Xu said. She then mentioned that “Media Services is going to help record a music video for me and Josie Hung and the video will be shown in a public performance in the Palace Museum in Beijing in December.”
After this performance, Swarthmore’s only all-male a cappella group came to the front. They performed What a Wonderful World, by Sam Cooke, followed by Let’s Get It On, by Marvin Gaye. To conclude their performance, they sang Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours, by Stevie Wonder.
As the audience clapped, the next performer, Vivek Ramanan ‘18, was introduced. He performed a rhythmic footwork-based piece called Thillana. It was, according to Ramanan, a dance form known as Bharatanatyam, which literally translates into “Indian dance.” Ramanan said that Bharatanatyam is very culturally rooted. “Learning [this] at a very young age was a very strong way to feel rooted in my cultural identity,” he explained. Ramanan has trained for around seven years and has performed in India. “While I didn’t speak the language, my relatives could understand me through dance,” Ramanan said.
To close the event, Swarthmore’s Taiko drumming group finally came out and took their positions by the drums set up at the start of the event, delivering an outstanding, energetic performance to end the showcase.
Afterwards, when asked about the event, Offbeat member Janan Hui ‘20 said, “I thought it was cool to have a lot of performances and I wished this happened more often.” He argued, “The diversity of cultures on campus should have this space to be shared and appreciated … it’s significant for both the people who share their talents and cultures, and for those who get to experience some form of culture through this.”
When asked about his thoughts on the showcase, Ramanan commented, “This is one of the best cultural events I’ve seen because of the length of it.” He continued to say that the event provided “good balance against the Western arts and showed the very deep roots in culture expressed through these art forms, which are integral things to culture.”
Kaitelyn Pasillas ‘20, one of the audience members, said that she “really liked the variety of events that we would otherwise not be exposed to.” Another member of the audience, Malini Kohli ‘20, said that “CIA week is a great way for all the cultural groups on campus to come under one roof.”
Xu commented on the showcase, stating that it was “a new discovery through which I experienced for myself one evening of diverse cultures expressed in their performing arts.” Xu added that she hopes this tradition can draw in more participants as the years go on.