Is this your first year doing the event?
No, this has been going on since I came here as a freshman. I have volunteered all three years since I’m a junior right now. So I’ve been doing this since I got here.
What does doing this event involve?
This year I am president of the Chinese Student Organization, and last year I was the secretary. There is a lot of stuff that goes into preparing events. We had to order the tables, get them delivered, and we have speakers. We had to order all of the lanterns, do advertising, and spread the event. We try to make it so that it’s a community event, so it’s not just on campus but also off campus. Usually earlier in the night, around 6 or 7 pm, families come. There’s a lot of scheduling. Last year we got rained out so we had to plan for rain days.
What do you think is the significance behind people writing down on the lanterns what their hopes and dreams are?
The lantern festival in itself is a traditional Chinese holiday. If we followed the rules, it would be during the Lunar New Year, which is in February. But, we have a Lunar New Year Show that we do around that time so we don’t really have time for it, so we do it now. During this period of time, the Lunar New Year is like New Year’s—you make good wishes. For Chinese people, it’s very important to wish people good luck. For example, if you have tests or midterms, they’re like “oh, please give me a good grade!”. A lot of the phrasing that we say is about love, family, and careers, which is stuff that a lot of Chinese people also emphasize, but they can also just write or draw anything on it.
For you personally, do you think it really works? What do you think is the spiritual connection that really makes it magical?
A lot of people come because we associate it with the scene from Tangled. I feel like it’s something that William & Mary doesn’t really see. We are the Chinese Student Organization and so one of our goals is to promote Chinese culture. For a lot of people, it’s something they’ve never experienced before, and that plays into a lot of what they get out of this event.
I see a lot of your organization is involved in the preparation and running of this event, and it’s a great way to promote Chinese culture. What do you think it means for the Chinese student body here to have an event together as a community?
I’m pretty sure we are the biggest cultural organization on campus. We have around 140 paid members this year, which is a lot considering how big William & Mary is. We try to work with the Confucius Institute, so they’re here to promote Chinese culture and Chinese language on campus. We try to engage not just our organization, but other organizations too. Not specific to this event, but we also work with KASA, the Korean-American Students Association, JCA, and also our own members. I think we do pretty well with member retention because we have these big events that we host. Beforehand, we also have a lot of social events just for our members, and we do Bigs and Littles. I think that’s the biggest way to get people involved in our organization, and we also have a show that we put on. Basically we just try to make an atmosphere for freshmen and upperclassmen to get along and get to know each other. Kind of like creating a family on campus.
So when you first started working on this as a freshman, why did you get involved?
From very early, I have been very aware of my culture as an Asian-American. It’s something that I’ve been very comfortable with, and it’s something that I personally sought out when I got on campus. It helped because my brother is an alum of here, and he was involved in the organization, so I got exposure to it earlier on. I came out to the shows and I saw that they do these dances and actings, and I heard them talk about them. That was my first exposure, and I really liked it.
Though I do have to say, for me, it’s been because I sought it out. As the Chinese Student Organization as a whole, sometimes when we recruit people they’ll say: “Oh, I’m not Chinese,” but it really doesn’t matter. This year is the biggest that our organization has been, and I feel like it’s because we’ve been reaching out to people. We ask them to bring their friends, and there’s no barriers—literally anyone can join. People sometimes feel like they can’t join, but there’s really no problem with that. Because we celebrate Chinese culture, we do focus on that; but at the same time, we’re just trying to grow as a family.