Saturday, September 14

Culture nights more about social scene than education


It all boils down to how you define “like.”

Meet Dan (I promised David that I wouldn’t use his real
name), a cohort of mine since we loaded a dorm elevator with a
bunch of caution cones as freshmen. Dan is a go-getter who goes (to
class) much more often than he gets (As). In other words, Dan is a
miserable chemistry student here at UCLA. Fortunately, Dan has
found himself a hobby in college that keeps his neurotransmitters
from teeter-tottering in his brain.

“I like going to culture nights,” Dan said
matter-of-factly.

So much so that he’s made plans to attend Friday’s
Korean Culture Night, followed by Saturday’s Taiwanese
Culture Night. Moreover, he already has this year’s
Vietnamese Culture Night, Chinese American Culture Night and Nikkei
Student Union Culture Night under his belt. He even makes
appearances at USC’s culture nights. I think when Dan uses
the word “like,” he really means “madly hooked
on” or “horribly addicted to.”

“I’m not addicted to culture nights,” a
fidgety Dan protested while keeping his hands from shaking (OK, it
was cold outside but still “¦ ). “They’re more
like diversions.”

Going to the batting cages after work is a diversion. Flipping
pencil-darts up at the ceiling is a diversion. Driving east on the
I-10 at 6 p.m. to watch another school’s culture nights (the
devil’s school, no less) is masochism.

When asked if he intends to attend the Latin Culture Night, the
Armenian Culture Night or any other culture night, Dan replied,
“The Pilipino one will be my last one this season.”

I paused for a moment.

Season? What season? When did culture nights begin garnering a
season of their own? I didn’t receive the memo.

I paused some more, processing what I just heard. Dan makes it
sound as if it’s duck season or snowboarding season or
basketball season. Soon newsstands will be stocking magazines
devoted to previews of the best culture night locations and
interviews with culture night legends with advertisements of the
latest in culture-night fashion and equipment.

Season pass. Where do I sign? The inevitable culture night award
show. Why not?

It’s fitting for Dan and culture night aficionados like
him to view the period from January to May as the “culture
night season.” That’s when club members, after a fall
quarter of piecing together an adequate script and casting
tolerable actors, satisfy their performing joneses. Or as the
ever-dramatic Taiwanese American Union Web site puts it: “The
endless toils and tears and sweat sum up to a single night of
glamour.”

Let’s face it: Some of these student productions are so,
well, so-so. They’re not exactly MFA-level productions, or
even undergraduate theater quality. But nobody in his right mind
expects them to be. Most of the audience consists of family,
friends and people like Dan, suggesting that they’re there to
serve as a support group or a cheering section. The whole set-up
reminds me of my mom and dad with a camcorder, savoring every
second of my part in my elementary school’s production of
“The Christmas Carol.” I was like 7.

So, Dan, what is so appealing about culture nights?

“I feel like a celebrity going to a movie premiere in
Hollywood,” Dan said. “A lot of my friends are there
““ it’s a social scene.”

Yes, you heard that correctly. Culture night is now, or perhaps
always has been, a social scene. It certainly isn’t about
cultural education anymore. Much of the audience at VCN or CACN is
Vietnamese American and Chinese American. They’ve already got
the culture thing down pat; they know the story and can basically
predict exactly what’s going to happen next in the
night’s performances and skits.

The conservative Asian mom doesn’t want her
first-generation daughter to enroll in art school? No way. The son
feels pressure to duplicate his father’s business success,
especially in today’s economic hellhole? You’re
kidding. And he’s gay?

Just for Dan, I’m calling for more culture nights. NorCal
Culture Night, SoCal Culture Night, OC Culture Night. Isn’t
this the most brilliant idea ever? I’m sure Dan would like
it.

E-mail Chang at [email protected]

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