Two of my friends and I decided about a month ago that we would perform together in the Ethnic Arts Festival, but we weren’t sure whose country we would pick to perform the dance. We finally decided that we were not going to pick either one of our countries. Instead, we chose to fuse all three of our countries’ traditional dances into one ultimate dance to perform at the Ethnic Arts Festival! I also managed to join Bollywood at the last minute for practice and performance on the day itself.
The Ethnic Arts tabling event was held in the Center for the Arts on Saturday, February 24th. When I arrived, there were already a lot of tables set up by their representatives and the catering service was already preparing food. My booth, Malaysia, was upstairs along with the rest of the other Asian countries like India, Maldives, East Timor etc. The Malaysians weren’t so lucky that afternoon. It took us about an hour to set up our booth because of miscommunications. However, in the midst of the event, one Luther professor approached our (empty) booth and kindly asked if I could tell him more about Malaysia! It was especially lovely of him to do so, and I had so much fun telling our first visitor about my home country.
The tabling event took about three hours total. People from all walks of life in Decorah visited us. A lot more people started visiting our booth once it got set up; we had a lot of Girl Scouts come too. The tabling event worked in a way where these children could get their "passport" stamped if they visited a booth. It was great to be able to connect with some members from the Girl Scout association because I used to do girl guiding myself back when I was younger. It was a lot of fun telling our visitors stories about the artifacts on our table, as well as about the traditional games and music from my country. I got a chance to play batu seremban, a traditional village game, with some of the children, introduce the angklung, play it with several groups of people, and tell visitors Malaysian legends with the artifacts we had laid out on the table. The food served that day was just incredible too. We had a lot of ethnic food from Latin America, Africa, and so forth. The visitors got to carry their food in paper plates (most of the food was finger food) and tour around the booths while they enjoyed their meal.
In the evening, the Ethnic Arts event moved to the Center for Faith and Life to showcase some bizarre cultural performances for its audience. Good news was, admission was free. We had wonderful talents from all over the world, including the most entertaining emcees you could find on campus—Bilal and Asha. The show kicked off with the flag ceremony, where some international students and locals paraded into the auditorium with flags from all kinds of countries and gathered onto the stage in one big line. The opening was definitely welcoming, and it got the audience pumped for what was to come next. As emcees, Bilal and Asha moved the performace along under the pretense that they were tourists traveling around the world discovering new sites and learning about different types of cultures. There were more performances that evening that I had initially predicted. An ethnic song from Pakistan, a Caribbean dance, a K-Pop dance, and so many more!
My first performance was Bollywood that started off with a group of girls dancing their way onto the stage accompanied by our male partners as part of the last segment of the show. It was hard to imagine that we’ve practiced so long and hard for a performance that went by in just five minutes! My final performance was Nemalia; it was placed as the last performance of the event. The dance was a combination of traditional dances from Malaysia, Somaliland, and a bar dance from Nepal. It was selected to be the finale of the show because it represented how many cultures across the world connect harmoniously together in the small town of Decorah, IA. It was a huge relief that everything went well and that we got to enjoy ourselves. There was an open dance floor at the end of the event for the performers and the audience to get together. Later after the show, I went with a group of other performers to Marty’s for an after-show party.
This experience allowed me to connect to my roots after being in the States for a long time. I could express myself and my culture despite being surrounded by virtually no other Malaysians. With that, I thank the Diversity Center at Luther College for giving us this platform throughout our stay here in pursuit of our studies.