Forty–nine states. Eighty–eight countries. Penn attracts people from all around the world. Even though we have a cosmopolitan campus, however, it’s easy to get lost in the hectic routine of college life and let our cultures and identities take a backseat. Luckily, Penn’s student cultural organizations are gearing up to change that in the best ways possible—through art.
One such organization, Penn Chinese Students’ Association, will hold their upcoming show, a theatre performance, on November 4 at the International House Philly on 37th and Chestnut. Kristy Hsi (C’ 19), cultural co–director of CSA, finds the process demanding but incredibly gratifying. After directing two cultural shows for Penn Taiwanese Society in previous years, she anticipates returning once again. “You meet so many people through holding rehearsals,” she says. “Pulling it all into a final production is really rewarding.”
The script for CSA’s planned show, written by recent graduate Michael Kwok (C’18), is a modern adaptation of the Chinese folk epic Journey to the West. However, instead of traveling to new continents, the four main characters will come together at Penn to navigate university life and embark on a quest for self–discovery. Each character must face “demons” both tangible and intangible in order to find their path—culminating in an hours–long insight on life and identity at Penn. Historically, the day of the show has been chaotic yet enjoyable. “The audience gets really excited, so they often laugh loudly or shout things at the actors,” Kristy recalls. “It’s a lot of fun, honestly, to have everyone be so invested.”
Meanwhile, the Penn South Asia Society is taking their annual show in a different direction. The highly anticipated show, to be held on October 27th in Irvine Auditorium, will feature a fiery lineup of dancing, singing, and band music. Dance teams PENNaach, Penn Dhamaka, Penn Masti, and Penn Raas will showcase a vibrant fusion of Bollywood, Bhangra, Raas, and hip hop dance, while Penn Thillana will perform classical Indian dance styles such as Bharatanatyam, Kathak, and Kuchipudi. Atma and Masala, the two a cappella groups, will sing a mix of South Asian and American genres, and SAS’s resident band, Penn Sargam, will turn it up through lively South Asian and American remixes. SAS cultural chair Vashvi Shah (C’ 21) looks forward to the eclectic blend of performances. “You get to see a bunch of different talents in just one night, not to mention guest acts and freshman and senior dances,” she says.
SAS and CSA are certainly not alone in recognizing the need for students to connect with their cultures—Penn Taiwanese Society, the African American Arts Alliance, Club Singapore, and a number of other student cultural organizations also dedicate immense effort to directing and producing their own shows each year.
Ultimately, the takeaway for all shows will be up to the audience. For CSA, Kristy hopes that regardless of where they come from, anyone who attends the show will be able to relate to aspects of minority culture. “The goal is for them to leave with a sense of fulfillment and an understanding that Asian–Americans are really not that different from any other people,” she says. Vashvi believes the SAS cultural show will help students identify with their South Asian roots. “It’s important,” she insists. “It allows people to connect with their culture.”