The Asian Culture Club: An ethnography

On the first floor in a corner room, a club meets on Friday. This club has many posters around the school trying to get more members. Besides these posters and the noise from the room there is almost no evidence this club exists. I have never heard a member from this club ask a friend to join. Most likely the only times the school realizes that this club exists is around Valentine’s Day when they sell valentines and Homecoming where they have a booth. However, this hidden club has an extremely welcoming environment. The best way to describe the members is a group very, very close friends or an extremely model family. As one member, Nakiya said “Everyone knows everyone in ACC (Asian Culture Club) and we’re like a big family.” The teasing that happens is all playful and the members give back as good as they get.

As I walk down the school hallway to the classroom where the Asian Culture Club (ACC) meets I am greeted by many loud conversations. When I walk into the classroom the first thing I notice is a rack of costumes by the entrance. These costumes are bright, colorful and seem to have a shine to them. I later found out by talking to Ka Youa Lor that the costumes are “for the Asian Dance Club at the middle school and that they are used for other events, like the Chinese New Year.” All around the wall are posters in Chinese.

There are many conversations going on around the room. One of the conversations is about planning for college. That group talks about how there are no seniors because they are “too busy planning for college.” One of the freshmen has pointed out that she has already started planning for college.

As 2:15 rolls around the meeting gets called to order.Alex  says that they have a visitor and asks me to introduce myself. I state my name and why I am there. Alex then tells the members to be on their best behavior. At the beginning, the Chinese teacher, Mrs. Miao, asks who needs bus tokens. Nakiya gets the sheet and begins to fill it out.

Once Alex gets the club called to order. The previous meeting the club had broken themselves into groups to plan Asian Night. Pa Dra arrives to the meeting. Some of the members have talked outside of the club to make a play. This play would talk about many different Asian cultures. Alex tells the club to ask their friends to perform for Asian Night, mostly playing instruments, singing or telling jokes. These groups include entertainment, food, and finances. One group, lead by Pa Dra, talks about whether or not there should be uniforms at Asian Night. They decide it should be dressy and that discounts would be given for dress. The entertainment group is trying to find appropriate music and decide how to approach the play, since the play can be done, but only if the entertainment group can make it happen. They also try to figure out who will be the MC, either a board member, or breaking with tradition by having a non board member.

Pa Dra get’s the attention of the club to ask what the price should be. If the price is $8 then the food will be free, but if the price is $3-4 then people will have to pay for food. Since the members can’t reach an agreement Alex asks for my opinion. Disliking being put on the spot for any reason I just shrug my shoulders. To break the silence Nakiya then begins to tell a joke.

The entertainment group then begins to talk about the piano in the auditorium. Nakiya then asks me if I like noodles. Pa Dra goes around to each group to make sure that the group knows what they are doing, or supposed to be doing as the case may be. The info of who is in what group is on a sheet that Pa Dra has. When Pa Dra has finished her rounds she begins to talk to the after party group, because the member who is supposed to lead it, Da Lee, has PSEO.

The entertainment group currently only has three people who want to audition. The entertainment group has decided that people working tech have to wear black and that they MC’s need to have more emotion. The group has also split up the play writing. Nakiya states that she wants to be in tech and also a DJ.

Some people say they want to sell merchandise, not just food. At this point it is really close to 3:00 pm and many members quietly slip out. There seems to be an unspoken rule about not disturbing people who are still working. Pa Dra and Alex begin to have a conversation in another language. Alex begins to say something, but then realizes what the time is. Alex asks if people’s rides are here, with a chorus of yes Alex ends the meeting with a look that says she would rather have the meeting last a little longer.

After checking with Alex on March 14 that the meeting was still on I arrive ready to observe once more. As I walk in I notice that there are some different people from the last time and some people from the last time aren’t here. When Alex realizes that someone is taking a test in the classroom she gets the club to move the other side and to be a little quieter. Since I know that the club is splitting into groups I go to a different group than last time.

The group I chose to follow this time is the food group. The leader is Alex, but since she has to circulate around the room, Ka Youa is given the job of leader.  One member pulls out a piece of paper and divides it into sections, for sure and maybe. One of their biggest concerns is who is going to help make food, since none of them want to do all the food prep and even dividing the food prep means a lot of work for each member. The group decides to make egg rolls, cream cheese won tons and fried rice. Having a fair number of main dishes decided they move on to desserts. Seng pulls out his ever present laptop and searches for an Asian dessert.

The members then begin to wonder about who will be serving the food, because if they are making it the food it isn’t fair for them to serve it as well. Seng appears to have trouble finding a good dessert so they move on to what drinks to serve. When a dessert is found the entire group crowds around Seng’s laptop to look at the dessert, pan fried bananas. An advantage to this dessert is they already have to get the egg roll shells.

The group has decided on three drinks to make water, juice and water with syrup in it, like Italian soda. The group also wants to know how many they should plan on making and about posters and publicity. Seng having been doing more research for a dessert finds a fruit cake. Many members are skeptical about it because they have heard bad things about fruit cakes. I ask to see the picture and I point out that the fruit cake Seng has found is not like what most fruit cake is like. The fruit cake Seng found is a layer of cake, then a type of icing then fruit. This is repeated with different fruits. The cake used looks to be an ordinary yellow cake. The fruit cake most people have heard of has fruit blended in to the batter. The group decides to make the cake and then take a picture of it to reassure people that the fruit cake they have made is not the typical fruit cake. They also decide to have pictures of the food next to the item on the menu so people know what they are buying.

The group also realizes that they have to be careful about what meat they use and to clearly say what type of meat is in an item so people with religious or dietary restrictions can be assured that they aren’t breaking these restrictions.

The group then asks the financial group how much money they have to buy ingredients. The financial group was just trying to figure out the budget for each group and potential profits. The group has also decided that they will use ticket sales to figure out about how much to make, since the ticket sales will say how many people will be coming.

The group then tries to figure out when to make the food items. Ka Youa volunteers to make the egg roll mixture the day of the party after school at her house. When other members protest about how much work that would be Ka Youa points out that she has lots of sisters to help her. As the group begins to wrap up a board member says that someone should try the fruit cake before committing to make it to make sure the recipe is good. Ka Youa decides that she is going to figure out what ingredients they need.  Like the last meeting people leave as they need to until around 3:00 when Alex officially ends the meeting.

When I first set out to study the Asian Culture Club, I had no idea what to expect. This club is so secluded and unknown to non-members that all the knowledge I had came from the posters I had seen around the school. Before I went to the first meeting I talked to some of my friends who were in it to find out what it was like. I was told by Pa Dra that their meetings “are less organized” and that most meetings they are either “teaching about a culture or playing a name game.” The first meeting I went to I was unprepared for what the club was doing, because I had no idea that there was such a thing as Asian Night. I expect that the meetings I observed are the typical meetings this club has when planning an event. I feel that although the Asian Culture Club members are a small percentage of the schools population this club has something to teach everyone in the school about how to treat other people. The room felt safe and home like with lots of laughter. No one seemed uncomfortable or out of place. This unique club is full of wonderful people who not only care about other people, but interested in learning about other cultures as well. Their interests beyond their own culture and maybe that of America should inspire every student and while they do this the make friendships. When I asked Ka Youa what Asian Culture Club meant to her she said, “Learning about the Asian culture and gathering together.” The members have made friendships that will last a lifetime.