Letter to the Editor

Eric Royce

Not ever having attended a cultural event at Oshkosh, I was a little apprehensive about going to the Asian Heritage Month Fashion Show.

“You’ll be an ignorant outsider that doesn’t know heads from tails,” I somehow convinced myself. As I made my way up the stairs to the second floor of Reeve, I almost turned back when I found the ballroom doors closed. Something within my own self beckoned me to continue forward, and I’m glad I did.

The event kicked off at exactly 5 p.m. with an invitation to partake in the buffet. This warm greeting was accompanied by the ambrosial smell of native Asian cuisine, which I would have gladly consumed had I not just eaten a typical American meal of greasy Pizza Hut pizza. Rest assured, though, it was my loss. Of that, I am certain.

As the minutes passed, the murmur of the crowd increased at a steady decibel. Friends talked with friends, stranger talked with strangers; a true creation of community was happening right in front of me. Me, sitting on the sidelines like a fly on the wall as I usually do at large social gatherings. Overwhelmed and thrilled, taking it all in.

Musical notes created by some sort of flute and string instrument floated down delicately from the overhead speakers. In this hectic, energy-filled space, I began to feel at peace. I began to appreciate the fact that I had entered through a closed door. A door leading to difference that many Americans are not brave enough to open.

With the beginning of the show drawing nigh, young men and women in their native garb rushed about this way and that.

Hurriedly, they were preparing for what was starting to feel like a very promising afternoon. Still, I felt oddly like a stranger standing on the outside. Like someone not privy to the telling of a great story that everyone else is enjoying.

The importance of heritage was made clear from the first event of the evening, a traditional and lively harvest dance from the Philippines. It was certainly not what I was expecting, with elements of Spanish guitar and a dash of German polka. All of this was wrapped around a semi-ritualized rite of passage regarding the picking of crops.

Next was a traditional Hmong dance that involved a group of four talented female dancers twirling fans with long, wide streamers attached to them. Their control and grace were beyond anything I have ever seen in this world. Each movement was as fluid as water, yet as sharp as an arrow. Powerful enough, both in emotion and culture, to move mountains.
Before the fashion show commenced, a wonderful trio of cellos filled the room with their notes, and the Filipino dance troupe came out for one more number. By that point, I was no longer nervous about being an intruder. I was beginning to understand.
The fashion show was a fantastic event. The young men and women I mentioned earlier that were rushing about now took their place on center stage. They stood proud and strong, representing traditional garb from a plethora of Asian regions.

Confidence radiated from their every step.

When it was all over, I like to think that I left a better person. Now, I’m not saying there was some sort of brilliant epiphany. What I am saying is that, even though I was still a fly on the wall, as I probably always will be, I was a fly on the wall that was better off. Better off because of the culture, heritage, and community that I saw.

I now realize that when I opened that ballroom door, I wasn’t just opening a door to a room, I was opening a willingness within myself. Something, in my opinion, that all of us could benefit from if we do it more often.