Over a dozen scattered stalls set up for a night market celebrating Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi American cultures broke the usual Monday evening quiet of the Sunset Village Plaza.
Hundreds of students milled around the 16 stalls – each set up by a different APIDA organization – to learn more about the cultures they showcased.
The 16 student organizations – ranging from Pacific Ties, an APIDA newsmagazine, to the Indian Student Union at UCLA – were divided into three regions, and the learning experience was facilitated by a system of “passports.”
Every visitor to the market was encouraged to read through a short description of each organization and could attempt casual quizzes at each stall. After each quiz, the visitor’s passport would be marked with a pen.
Upon visiting each stall in one of the three regions, one could queue up for a free meal made up of dishes native to the cultures represented by that passport.
“I learned a lot of things … that I wouldn’t have (otherwise),” said Brian Chew, a fourth-year business economics student who attended the event. “The food was pretty good. I thought it was a cool diverse offering of the various cuisines.”
Visiting all the stalls from one of the regions, for instance, would win a participant a plate of Cambodian beef sticks, chrysanthemum tea, soy milk, Vietnamese spring rolls, Korean kimbap and Burmese nan gyi thoke. The two other regions offered their own plates of food native to regions all the way from India to Hawaii.
The night market’s offerings weren’t limited to just trivia and food, however. Live performances with APIDA themes were also part of the evening’s entertainment.
“It was really nice for me to find a space to grow and sing (here),” said Zak Rubio, a second-year mechanical engineering student and one of the performers at the night market.
Rubio sang the lyrics to “Dahil sa ‘Yo,” a popular Tagalog song in the Philippines, while the members of the Tinig Choral a cappella choir vocalized the tune.
The night market was a celebration of a feeling of belonging and recognition that may sometimes prove elusive to traditionally marginalized groups, said Amanda Leutmixay, a fourth-year anthropology student who was in charge of the Pacific Ties stall.
“All of these communities have such vibrant and supportive communities because they have strength in numbers, and I don’t have a lot of (fellow) Lao Americans on campus,” Leutmixay said. “This is how I bridge the gap to feel a sense of belonging.”
Being a member of an APIDA organization afforded Ashwin Tripathi, a second-year business economics student from the Indian Student Union’s stall, a sense of community he said he had never felt before.
Tripathi grew up in Orange County, California, where he said he never had the opportunity to connect with his Indian heritage. So when he came to UCLA, he wanted to do more to learn about his culture. He joined the ISU.
“I decided that this is what I wanted to do for the next four years,” he said.
This year, the night market was organized by the Asian Pacific Coalition and sponsored entirely by UCLA Residential Life, placing no financial burden on the organizers or attendees. Despite a few delays and logistical hiccups, APC member and event organizer Ryan Chen said collaborating with all the APIDA organizations for this event was easy.
“I asked (members of the APIDA organizations) and within 10 minutes, everyone was on board. It’s been incredible,” said the fourth-year ecology and evolutionary biology student. “The work that we all do has been geared toward the same goal and we all exist for a reason. To be visible, to show our culture.”
The APC Night Market, a yearly tradition at UCLA since the early 2000s, had all but died out by 2018, said Sharon Yuen, director of the APC. APC itself had also dwindled down to just one member when Yuen became director in 2018.
“I wanted to rebuild APC, (so) I looked back to historical events that we used to do that would really allow every single organization that we represent to socialize together and share over food and culture,” said the fourth-year Asian American studies student. “Last year I brought back the night market.”
Yuen only wanted to focus on her studies when she first came to UCLA. However, that desire was quickly belied by her realization that she faced more institutional barriers to her education than others because of her culture and background.
“I realized, for many students of color and those marginalized groups, that being a student here – you can’t just be a student,” she said. “There are pressures and certain disadvantages that are barriers to your learning on a daily basis.”
The work Yuen put into APC and organizing this event, however, has been worth the effort, she said.
“We stand on the shoulders of giants,” she said. “We (organized the night market) for those who came before us, but also for future APIDA leaders on campus who will come after.”