Northwestern’s Chinese International Student Association held its second annual Spring Festival Celebration Saturday, featuring English-accessibility for the first time.
The event, held in Tech’s Ryan Auditorium, consisted of a collection of performances by student groups, musicians, dancers and comedians, all celebrating Chinese culture and the Lunar New Year.
CISA President Gabrielle Tsoi, a third-year student in the School of Communication and Weinberg, said that a big part of her organization’s purpose is to strengthen relationships between Chinese international students on campus, and the Spring Festival Celebration began last year to support that mission.
“Spring Festival is just a traditional time for Chinese people to get together, but before then we didn’t have a big event for people,” Tsoi said. “So we decided to do this and be the one to connect each other and hold everyone together.”
Hosts and performers used English as well as Chinese this year in order to make the show easier for non-Chinese speakers to understand. But for some attendees, such as Weinberg first-year Amina Elmasry, the English-accessibility fell short of expectations.
“There were jokes that were funny because of cultural knowledge that weren’t very funny to us,” Elmasry said. “Also, we stayed for a little over two hours, and I would say that about half of that time we didn’t understand what was happening.”
Elmasry liked the show, but she didn’t think an English audience could get as much out of it as a Chinese one. However, she didn’t think there was any need to make it more accessible.
“They should not change it to accommodate us,” she said.
Medill second-year Tracy Zhang, CISA’s internal chair, acknowledged the difficulties in making the traditional Chinese celebration easier for a non-Chinese audience to digest.
“I think we do admit that the student English-accessibility is still not enough, because some things are just not translatable,” Zhang said.
But after a large turnout at last year’s Spring Festival Celebration, Zhang said CISA felt the change was necessary.
“We didn’t prepare anything related to English accessibility at all, and then we were really surprised to see that in the audience there were a lot of non-Chinese-speaking people,” Zhang said. “So that’s why this year we tried to make sure that our audience could all enjoy the show.”
According to CISA’s event-planning chair Yichen Wang, a second-year in Weinberg, the event is a unique opportunity for many students at Northwestern to learn about Chinese traditions firsthand, even if not everything is perfectly translatable.
“I think if someone would love to learn more about Chinese culture, it’s a pretty authentic experience of a Lunar New Year celebration,” Wang said.
Tsoi agreed. She said she believed that everyone, no matter what language they speak, should be able to share in the excitement.
“I hope Chinese people enjoy the event and enjoy the moment of celebrating the big day and celebrating the time that we’re together,” Tsoi said. “And I hope other English speakers and other foreigners enjoy the show and enjoy Chinese culture and be more interested in knowing more.”