The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill celebrated Asia Week from Feb. 20-25, 2017. Students were invited to contemplate the contributions of Asians and Asian-Americans to the UNC community by attending lectures, religious ceremonies, workshops, performances and more.
Asia Week was an effort by the Carolina Asia Center to “bring together a number of different kinds of events that we’ve done in the past, but to attract the attention of the university,” according to Morgan Pitelka, a professor in the Department of Asian Studies and director of the Carolina Asia Center.
Asia Week was also an effort to honor the multicultural character of the U.S. and the contributions of immigrants to society.
The week began with a presentation on Asians and Asian-Americans at UNC. Heidi Kim, associate professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, tracked the history of Asian and Asian-American students at UNC from Albert Lemuel Bunker in 1878 to the present.
Early immigrants from Asia would have sometimes found North Carolina an unwelcoming place, Kim explained, with numerous laws restricting rights and citizenship.
In the 1980s, students from diverse Asian backgrounds began to organize, forming organizations like Sangam and the Asian Students Association. In the mid-1990s, Kim said, UNC offered its first Asian-American literature course. Since 2010, Kim and fellow English and comparative literature professor Jennifer Ho have taught seven courses in Asian-American literature.
However, Kim conceded that such visibility and sense of community was a long time coming.
“Anecdotally I have heard from alumni…that there was a real sense of loneliness that I think we owe it to ourselves to go back and look at,” Kim stated, speaking in particular of Asian and Asian-American students who attended UNC from the 1940s and 1980s.
Participants in Asia Week were encouraged to reflect on the history of Asian and Asian-Americans at UNC and celebrate the community’s current vibrancy. The week culminated with the Asian Culture Festival on Feb. 25. The festival featured booths, workshops and performances related to Asian food, sports, dance, music, art and activism.
A diverse range of organizations participated, from the Carolina Kendo Club, which teaches students the Japanese martial art of kendo, to the Hmong Students Association of Carolina, which celebrates the culture and advocates for the rights of immigrants from the Hmong minority of China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
At the center of Asia Week was the ongoing creation of an elaborate mandala in the atrium of the FedEx Global Education Center. Buddhist monk Geshe Palden Sangpo of the Kadampa Center for the Practice of Tibetan Buddhism in the Gelugpa Tradition created the mandala out of crushed and colored marble. A mandala is a two-dimensional representation of the world in which a bodhisattva, or special Buddhist spirit full of wisdom and compassion, resides.
Sangpo began creating the mandala on Wednesday, Feb. 22, before deconstructing it on Saturday, Feb. 25. According to Lauren Leve, associate professor of religious studies, the destruction of the mandala at the end of the week represents the impermanence of the universe and the Buddhist devotion to the ideal of non-attachment.
Kim encouraged students who enjoyed the mandala or the other events associated with Asia Week to make it known.
For more information about events at UNC related to Asia, visit the Carolina Asia Center’s website.
By Sasha Gombar ’17