CASA celebrates Asian American identity and culture

Students from several colleges all over Southern California packed Bovard Auditorium to watch the performance of Wizard of Jade. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

As a part of an annual celebration of Chinese culture, USC Chinese American Student Association put on its 19th culture show Saturday night at Bovard Auditorium.

Along with USC students, many other CASA members from other nearby schools — including UCLA, UCI, UCR and UCSD — showed their support and filled the seats in the audience. Their cheering elucidated the strength of the Chinese American community in Southern California schools.

During the culture show, CASA performed the play Wizard of Jade, directed by Emily Yamanaka, a sophomore majoring in economics and east Asian languages and cultures, and Byron Li, a junior majoring in computer science.

The play focused on USC freshman Amy Hsu, portrayed by Cheryl Koh a senior studying business administration, who establishes a goal in college to reject anything related to her Chinese culture. She deliberately tries to hide her Chinese heritage, even changing her name to Emilia, a “less Asian” name. After attending a fraternity party and passing out, Amy wakes up in a completely foreign world, The Land of Jade.

The play followed Amy’s quest to accept herself for who she truly is, and successfully captured the mindset of many teenage Asian Americans who are afraid to embrace their culture.

Within just two hours, Yamanaka and Li cleverly incorporated ancient Chinese mythical tales into the play, transforming old stories into fun new characters that non-Chinese audience members could relate to as well. Ancient tales such as Sun Wukong, Chang’e and the White Snake merged together, as characters from each tale helped Amy during her journey. The directors molded Sun Wukong, also known as the Monkey King, into a character who ran away from his problems, much like Amy in the play. They also merged Chang’e and White Snake into similar situations, ultimately aiding Amy’s realization of the importance of her cultural roots.

For Yamanaka, the hardest part of running the show was coming up with a schedule that worked for everyone.

“The hardest part was definitely scheduling for rehearsals,” Yamanaka said. “We didn’t have any full run throughs with the complete cast until the actual show. We managed to pull off well enough though so I’m pretty happy with the result.”

It was hard to tell that they had their first run-through during the actual show, as even the transitions between scenes were filled with other kinds of entertainment. In between scenes, Yamanaka and Li invited various Asian American cultural groups on campus to perform. Chaotic 3, USC’s hip-hop dance team that stemmed from CASA decades ago, performed a number that melded perfectly with the play, while the Trogons a capella group performed a mashup of both Mandarin and English songs that captured the sentiments of identity and growth. Trojan Bhangra provided a different cultural experience with their upbeat performance that showcased Punjabi and Indian dance styles. Combined with voice solos from actors, these performances added a refreshing interruption every few scenes to retain the audience’s attention.

Yamanaka hoped that many situations depicted in the play will seem familiar to audience members and that they would be able to relate to her play.

“Even though I wrote the play so it is very funny, the main plot is about how an Asian American deals with identity crisis and her journey to start incorporating culture into her life,” Yamanaka said.