The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Festival of Lights hosts culture, performance and student talent for Lunar New Year

Sam Mroz
The band “Bum Sweater” performs on stage at APIDA’S Festival of Lights celebration in the Lincoln Park Student Center on Feb. 13, 2024. The event was hosted by The Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Cultural Center.

Music pours out of the Lincoln Park student center, where student performers bring culture and celebration for the Festival of Lights. The two-hour event hosted by the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Cultural Center boasted ample food, exciting entertainment and traditions from across the Asian diaspora. 

Hosted Feb. 13, the annual event honored its third reception. For Jane Baron, associate director in DePaul’s Office of Multicultural Student Success, its recognition at DePaul has only grown stronger through the years.

Audience members watch as Maya Kaczor performs a rendition of Mitski’s Nobody in the Lincoln Park Student Center on Feb. 13, 2024. The Festival of Lights featured cultural performances as well as karaoke. (Sam Mroz)

“This space and the strong relationships within empowered APIDA students allow them to showcase their talents, step out of their comfort zone, and share their culture with DePaul’s broader community,” Baron said.

Baron started as the APIDA Cultural Center’s program manager in 2021 and helped kick off the first festival with student performances. Although she would go on to take a larger position coordinating across DePaul’s four cultural centers, her former role was soon filled by a longtime member of the center.

In 2017, Sabrina Salvador began her career at DePaul when there were no designated cultural hubs. A year later, the APIDA Cultural Center and its three counterparts launched on the Lincoln Park Campus. 

After moving through undergrad to graduate school at DePaul, Salvador spent less time in the center as her academic and professional tasks pulled her away from the space that she said defined her college experience.

However, when Salvador transitioned into graduate school, she saw an opportunity to take on the role as program manager for the center — a chance she wasn’t keen on passing up.

“It felt like a calling to give back to a space I had gained so much from,” Salvador said. “I felt really disconnected from a lot of it but when this job opened up, it was a way for me to create and cultivate the environment that I really appreciated.”

Lael Malibiran (left) and Cam Delvo of Kalahi Kultural perform a duet at the Festival of Lights in the Lincoln Park Student Center on Feb. 13, 2024. The APIDA Cultural Center hosts a variety of events and activities throughout the year. (Drew Jimenez)

As program manager, she is now the first point of contact for DePaul’s APIDA student body and most recently helped facilitate the Festival of Lights celebration.

Salvador said in her two years in the role, the festival favored student engagement and talent above all else, emphasizing local and rising performers. 

“It’s less changing what we did in the event itself, and more so adjusting our strategy in regards to sharing it with the DePaul community,” said Salvador. “I think that’s one of the things that’s helped with this year, as so many student performers, so many of them have friends on campus, so many of them are involved in student organizations and so their members come to support them.”

Some of the performers at the Festival of Lights included Yin He Dance, ACE Modern, Michael Cali, DePaul K-pop Dance Club, Kalahi Kultural and Seven Star Lion Dance Group.

Now two years out from Baron’s inaugural festival, the APIDA presence at DePaul balances exterior student outreach with internal community engagement.

“One of my goals was to increase the visibility of the APIDA population at DePaul to showcase the need for more resources,” Baron said. “Now that the Festival of Lights has become a staple APIDA event, I see that the goals have switched from increasing visibility of the APIDA community to building strong connections within the community itself.”

DePaul student band Kalahi Kultural performs a cultural chorus at the Festival of Lights in the Lincoln Park Student Center on Feb. 13, 2024. The celebration featured performers from DePaul and the Chicagoland area. (Drew Jimenez)

Arlene Park, a community engagement assistant in the APIDA Cultural Center, took on major ownership of handling the bulk of the festival’s programming. In her work to scout student performances for the event, Park said her goal was to maintain a thoughtful and fun mood throughout the night that still honored the history behind the celebration.

“Lunar New Year represents a time for family reunions, reflection, and the welcoming of a new year filled with hope, prosperity and good fortune,” said Park. “It’s a time to honor ancestors, pay respects to elders, and exchange well-wishes for health, happiness and prosperity in the coming year.”

The APIDA Cultural Center hosts larger events like the Festival of Lights every quarter. In spring quarter, they will round out the school year with a night market hosted in connection with Buddha Heritage Month. Updates from the center and information can be found on socials or the center’s DeHub page.

Although students will have to wait until next year to celebrate another Lunar New Year, every event at the APIDA Cultural Center is a chance to acknowledge their cultural history and the Asian diaspora.

“I’ve always cherished my culture and the rich history it offers, which has enabled me to appreciate myself more fully,” Park said. “The Festival of Lights, therefore, becomes not just a celebration of cultural diversity, but also a reaffirmation of identity and a reminder of the beauty in embracing one’s heritage.”

And what’s the outcome of such an embrace?

“My heart feels whole,” Salvador said.

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