TUPAC and ASA host first Pan-Asian Cultural Festival

The Pan-Asian Cultural Festival, open to students and the local community, took place at Temple Performing Arts Center on March 22.

Students rehearsing for a performance before the start of the festival. | FERNANDO GAXIOLA / THE TEMPLE NEWS

With traditional dance performances and favorite food dishes at every turn, the first Pan-Asian Cultural Festival was a collaborative display of cultural beauty and community at the Temple Performing Arts Center Friday.

The event, hosted by Temple University Philippine American Counsel and Asian Students Association, was open free to the public from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

Attendees were encouraged to dress in traditional or semi-formal attire and engage with various Asian cultures through food and dance. In turn, student organizations raised funds and awareness for their clubs and brought together the Philadelphian Asian-American community.

“I really love how people seem to be very interested in interacting with different kinds of cultures, they’re really like actually trying to understand what we’re selling, and there’s so many different Asian clubs here,” said Tammy Lin, Temple Taiwanese Student Association’s vice president and senior management information systems major. 

Akshay Bharath, a junior bioengineering major and ASA’s advocacy and culture director, came up with the idea while searching for a way to showcase his skills as a classically trained Indian dancer with 12 years of experience. 

Bharath found there was no avenue for Indian classical dance representation at Temple, so while interning for ASA, he proposed the idea of a traditional dance display. 

He began collaborating with his roommate, Annabelle Salugao, a junior neuroscience major and TUPAC’s cultural event coordinator, in August 2023. The pair saw the potential for ASA and TUPAC to work together and applied for the Temple Performing Arts Center Grant at the end of the summer. 

Once they were selected for the grant early in the Fall semester, the money, along with campus-favorite sponsors, like Honey Truck, Hank’s, Redbull and Saxby’s, alleviated many of the costs associated with holding a large event, including the cost of the space, utilities and set-up, helping to make the festival possible. 

Bharath and Salugao extended invitations to local businesses and Asian organizations in the Philadelphia and New Jersey area. In the week leading up to the event, their RSVP form had reached about 240 sign-ups, exceeding the expectations placed for the event. 

Attendees moving between tables before the start of performances. | FERNANDO GAXIOLA / THE TEMPLE NEWS

The night was filled with traditional dance performances by Temple Thaalam, University City Bhangra, Philadelphia Suns, Modero Dance Company and Khmer Performing Arts and Culture, among others. 

Temple student musician Miza debuted songs, some in the Filipino language Tagalog, from his new album releasing April 16, while student Riley Combong presented a martial arts display.

TUPAC debuted its own dance team at the event, performing a Sakuting routine, which features the playful clashing of sticks to mimic a martial arts encounter and incorporates theatrical elements, like comedy. 

At the end of the routine, the crowd erupted into applause and cheers. Still, TUPAC’s dance team had some more numbers on deck, each one more engaging than the last.

The group demonstrated Binasuan, which involves performers balancing a wine glass on their heads and rotating it strategically around their bodies, requiring dance skills and the ability to remain still under pressure.

TUPAC’s final routine, a performance of Tinikling, which has deep roots in Filipino culture, involves the beating or maneuvering of two sticks while performers dance in between. The dancers must be quick and precise, and the routine earned gasps and shouts from the excited crowd. 

Another audience favorite was Rutgers Bellydance Troupe, which performed multiple dances, some traditional and others more modern and set to popular music. 

“I really liked the belly dancers, they were amazing, and they looked so beautiful,” said Noila Sattarova, a junior mechanical engineering major who attended the festival. 

Festival-goers also had the opportunity to try various cultural foods presented by Asian organizations on campus. Each club could keep any profit they made from festival sales.

A table full of home-made goods for sale in the lobby of the Performing Arts Center. | FERNANDO GAXIOLA / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Upon entering the festival, participants were able to fill out a “passport,” which was a checklist completed by visiting four different tables and trying their cuisines, to be entered into a raffle. 

“Everything’s kind of bite-sized, so people can try as much stuff as possible,” Salugao said. “That’s also the reason why we kind of kept the prices within the $1 to $3 range.”

TSA prepared Apple Sidra, an iconic Taiwanese soft drink, and scallion pancakes, which were fluffy and savory. Ai Tseng, TSA’s president, spent hours preparing the pancakes, starting Friday at 9 a.m. 

“There’s an art to it, you have to make the oil hot enough to not burn the food, so they’re definitely my favorite,” said Tseng, a senior MIS and finance major. “It’s been a childhood staple since growing up in Taiwan, we eat it every morning with eggs.”

TSA also prepared braised dried tofu, a savory dish that took about three days to prepare.

The Central Asian Students Association served beef and potato Samsa, a flakey pastry dough wrapped around a filling, and pomegranate chocolate clusters, a favorite of Dinusha Desilva, a junior finance and supply chain management major. 

“I liked the ube ensaymada and the chocolate pomegranate [clusters], those were so good,” Desilva said. 

Aside from bringing people together with the fun of food and performances, the event aimed to connect Philadelphia’s Asian-American community and celebrate heritage and culture.

“It’s been a long time coming, essentially, and I just hope that everyone who comes and especially like all the Asian Americans who come, I hope they can reconnect with themselves, and reconnect with the whole community,” Bharath said. “This is a huge celebration, not just for our accomplishments, but for everyone, as part of the community here.”

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