On a normal night, McKeldin Mall is eerily quiet with groups of students coming through every so often.
However, on the night of Oct. 7, McKeldin Mall was anything but quiet. The center of campus was alight with color and song in honor of a long held Vietnamese tradition.
This event was the last in a monthly series the organization holds at the start of fall semester called “VSA Month.” Though this was the first year they held the event, more than 700 individuals said they would attend through the VSA Facebook page.
“We meant for it to be much smaller, so we really had to up the production value,” VSA President Daniel Luu, a senior bioengineering major, said.
The night began with a fire juggling performance courtesy of the UMD Juggling Club. Most of the members spun flaming “poi,” a kind of tethered weight swung on a chain, while one member performed with a “dragon staff,” a pole with fire on both ends.
Members of the audience gasped and cheered as the fire got alarmingly close to their faces. A spotter stood behind with a fire extinguisher at the ready throughout the performance.
“I don’t really spin to hit the audience in the face,” Cody Silva, Juggling Club president and a senior animal science major, said.
Other performers included William Ma, who played his guitar and sang, and the Bui sisters Vivian and Alina, who performed an acoustic version of Britney Spears’ 2003 single,“Toxic.” All three musicians are members of VSA.
The hosts also raffled off Pho D’Lite, Target Express and Snowbots gift cards, along with cookies.
The lantern ceremony started about half an hour later than the advertised 8:15 start time. Before the release, Luu explained to the audience the significance of the lanterns in Vietnamese society.
The release at UMD was for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival (Tet Trung Thu), a time to celebrate the harvest and “everyone that means something to you.”
The lotus-shaped lanterns were supposed to float from one end of the fountain to the other, but the current was too weak and the lanterns ended up trapped near the fountain’s stone edge. Luu joked about the incident as the lanterns clumped together instead of floating down.
The organization sold around 500 lanterns and the crowd seemed unperturbed by the slight malfunction.
The proceeds from the event went to the Teach Me to Fish, a program run by Kids Without Borders, which sends teachers to Vietnam to help orphans acquire skills they can use in the workforce after they’re forced to leave the orphanage at age 18.
Luu first got involved with VSA during his freshman year. He said the club has changed tremendously from when he first joined.
VSA’s head of public relations, Dennis Do, a sophomore computer science major, has only been involved with VSA since last semester, but he already considers the organization a large part of his life at this university.
Another major event held by VSA was the Mid-Atlantic Union of Vietnamese Student Association conference this past spring. The event was a chance for the VSA’s 11 schools in the region to network and receive mentorship from alumni.
Do said the club is working hard to change its image here on campus.
“VSA is seen as very FOB[fresh of the boat]-y and Asian around here,” Do said. “We’re just a whole bunch of people who want to share with people our culture.”
One of the big themes of the night was family. Dorothy Nguyen, a 22 year-old alumni of VSA, who came back for the event, said the club has grown significantly since she was treasurer and that it is in part due to a mostly new executive board.
With more than 70 active members involved in the club, VSA is one of the largest Asian student organizations on campus. However, Luu emphasized how the club is not only open to students from Vietnam or with Vietnamese heritage.
“You love us, we’ll love you back just the same,” Luu said.
Rosie Brown is a junior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.