On Dec. 1, the Swarthmore Pan-Asian Association (SPAA) and the Intercultural Center’s (IC) Major Events team organized CelebrAsia, a night dedicated to celebrating Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) culture, with funding support from the Tri-Co Asian American Studies Program. Students were encouraged to show up in formal or cultural attire and enjoy various performances such as K-pop dances and artworks reflecting Asian identity and culture.
As SPAA has typically been associated with the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in the spring, the organization’s co-presidents, Clara Mulligan ’25 and Olive Han ’25 wanted to organize another major event in the fall to celebrate APIDA identities year-round.
Chloe Kanemaru ’26, the social media manager and president-in-training of SPAA, agreed with Mulligan and described how this event was different from the Cherry Blossom Festival.
“It was nice to have a fall event where the purpose was to celebrate the Asian American student body and identity through art. It felt a little more focused and personal than the Cherry Blossom Festival, which is open to the public,” she said.
Han, who is also an Intercultural Center (IC) intern, decided to make CelebrAsia a collaborative event between both organizations to ensure they had enough resources to make the event successful.
“The IC has been very intertwined with our events, not only monetarily, but just getting manpower as well. It’s interesting because SPAA was sort of born out of the IC considering that [some of our original members] got together from the APIDA Heritage Month Committee,” Han said. “[Afterwards], a few of us were like ‘Oh, it’d be great if this could continue year round where we put on a bunch of community and social events that bring together the Asian student community on campus’.”
Mulligan worked with Professor Lei Ouyang, the program coordinator of the Asian American Studies Department, to secure funding for the event. The department already had a history of sponsoring SPAA events such as the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Since this was SPAA’s first attempt at hosting a major event in the fall, Kanemaru had some initial worries but was ultimately consoled by the positive reception of the event.
“I think we were all a little bit scared about how this event would be perceived, or if it would be a success or not,” Kanemaru said. “There was some apprehension [on whether people would turn up, because] we had people ask us if the event was only open to Asian students, and we wanted people to dress nicely, preferably in cultural attire, [which might turn some people away]. But we had a huge unexpected turnout and everything just came together at the very last minute, in a good way.”
Mulligan was equally surprised by the huge turnout and recalls how the limited manpower and setup time caused them to be rushed throughout the event.
“With these kinds of large-scale events, it was definitely a learning curve,” Mulligan said. “The food ran out in 30 minutes, so we will ask for more funding for food in the future. The [photo area] went up in the last 5 minutes [before the event]. It’s always a race to the end here, we’re running around and scrambling but somehow we pull it off.”
Juggling the roles of event organizer and taiko performer during CelebrAsia, Seungmin Fruman ’24 described the experience as a mad dash.
“In the weeks leading up to the event, I was a full-time event planner,” Fruman said. “The big dance studio [where taiko is practiced] closed due to mold issues, so our rehearsal times got shifted, and we ended up having one proper rehearsal and full run-through before the event.”
Viewing the event in retrospect, Han wished that she could change how they displayed the archives of the college’s history of the Asian community, so people could peruse the experiences of previous Asian students.
Additionally, Mulligan noted that the event happened to have an East-Asian-centric position, and hoped that future events could better reflect the diversity of experiences and cultures within the Asian community.
“We were reflecting on how it was a mistake on our part to not be as intentional about our goal of making it a priority to include every single kind of Asian ethnicity in our events,” Mulligan said. “In terms of our smaller events like movie screenings and advertising, we feel that our execution and our intentions are very aligned [with that goal], but in terms of major events, we’re not quite as aligned,” Mulligan explained.
Han acknowledged the same oversight and plans to curb it by communicating with the campus community.
“Going forward, we have plans to try to initiate a community conversation about what it means to be pan-Asian on this campus if the pan-Asian identity label is even one that people are inclined to adapt to themselves,” Han said. “We’ll try to implement what they say into some of our larger events if that’s something that they’re even comfortable with.”