UCSB’s Vietnamese Student Association hosted its 25th annual Vietnamese Culture Night on May 6 at Campbell Hall, showcasing Vietnamese identities, experiences and culture to over 250 attendees.
Vietnamese Culture Night (VCN) presented the theme of “Each of Us, a Dreamer” this year following four years of dormancy due to the COVID-19 pandemic and various logistical complications. The production showcased a student-written theatrical play by second-year communication major and VCN Coordinator Evonne Tran, as well as various talent acts.
“This was the first VCN in four years, and I’m really happy with how it turned out,” Tran said. “Because our members essentially haven’t experienced one in such a long time, it was a good way for VCN to get quite integrated into VSA and have something to look forward to throughout the year.”
The play featured a female main character who desires to pursue acting against her Vietnamese immigrant parents’s wishes and contrasts her restrictive home life with that of her best friend.
“There’s a big contrast in between the two families because one was a lot more warm and more inviting, and the other one where the main character always felt like an outsider,” Tran said. “Her best friend is the main person that guides her on the path of not always having to give into what her parents want.”
The main character ultimately decides to pursue her acting career, causing a rift within her family and eventually leads her to move out. The story ends with her walking the red carpet years later. Tran said the play ultimately conveyed the message of following one’s own dreams under external parental and societal pressures.
“You should still be able to honor your own dreams and wishes,” she said. “That was a big component of the story that I wanted to highlight.”
The talent acts included traditional fan and hat dances, spoken word poetry pieces and modern dance groups by UCSB Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) members.
“With the traditional fan and hat [dances], people are more exposed to it throughout high school … and it looked really, really cool on stage,” Tran said. “We had traditional dresses that my family got back from San Jose, and it was just really fun to see.”
This production has been in the works since summer 2022, and Tran said the script is based on her personal experiences as a Vietnamese American.
“I wanted to do something that people can resonate with,” Tran said. “I ended up going with the current storyline because it’s based on experiences that I’ve gone through.”
Beyond the inclusion of commonplace Vietnamese phrases into the script, Tran said the theater production focused on the encompassing narrative of being an immigrant in the United States and the generational difficulties that come with that experience.
Third-year biological sciences major and VSA Co-President Ashley Pham
said she was proud of the number of attendees at the showcase, saying it eased her anxieties about whether the event would be successful.
“I honestly didn’t think too many people would attend, but we filled up a lot of Campbell Hall,” Pham said. “I was honestly really nervous, as I’ve never been to VCN, never ran one or participated in one, so I honestly had no idea what to expect.
Tran spoke to pressures this year over VCN becoming a full-scale production for the first time in four years, saying it was a long process but ultimately was brought to fruition.
“I think going into this year, there’s a lot more pressure because I really did want a full show instead of a banquet type of situation that we had last year,” she said. “Although it was stressful, it was really exciting to see things come together.”
Both Pham and Tran emphasized the dedication required from the entirety of VSA to turn the event — previously a smaller banquet — into a full-scale production.
“Everyone put a lot of hard work into it, and I was just so grateful to see a lot of VSA members and staff experience VSA for the first time together, which I thought was really special,” she said.
Pham spoke to the significance of VCN as an event at UC Santa Barbara, saying it provides an opportunity for the greater campus community to learn about Vietnamese culture through a creative, visual outlet.
“I feel like a lot of our general meetings don’t really showcase Vietnamese culture as much as a Culture Night show in a creative way where people can enjoy it and support each other and their friends on stage,” she said. “I think it’s really touching that they’re able to follow a storyline that’s different every year.”
Pham expressed hope that the audience saw the extensive effort and passion put into this year’s VCN on stage and understood the importance of cultural preservation and community support.
“This is a huge production show that is entirely student run, and especially this year, we didn’t really have a lot of guidance, so a lot of it was just up to us,” she said. “It’s just so important to preserve our culture, and we really want to show how we can keep our Vietnamese culture intact.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 3 of the May 11, 2023 print edition of the Daily Nexus.
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