The ALANA Center provides opportunities and resources to support students of color and foster cultural, social, academic and creative expressions in a comfortable and affirming gathering space. However, its remote location can isolate it from other parts of the campus and students may feel uninformed about what the Center attempts to accomplish. Each year that changes with ALANA Fest, however. ALANA Fest is a celebration of the different communities of color on Vassar’s campus, with this year being the event’s 40th anniversary.
Held on Saturday, April 30 from 12 to 4 p.m., ALANA Fest promises to bring people together through food, entertainment and a welcoming atmosphere. Its 40th anniversary will be larger by having more vendors, performers and it is striving to persuade more members of the community to come.
The event seeks to look back on past years and reflect on how far the Center and Vassar’s community as a whole have come. An intern at the center, Frank Najarro ’18, has put together the event along with Joaquim Goncalves ’18. Najarro is excited to be an integral part of this program and the inclusivity it promotes. He explained, “This year’s ALANA Fest has a motley of food, performers and inflatables. We are bringing two outside performers, Kilusan Bautista, who will be doing a rap/theatre-stylized piece, and Pacific Rhythm will be performing several traditional dances from Southeast Asian islands.”
Bautista is known for being a Brooklyn-based, experimental artist that is currently touring his solo theatre production, “Universal Self,” which is a presentation of the contemporary struggles of working-class Filipino Americans. Pacific Rhythm is a New Jersey Polynesian dance group that combines tradition with entertainment, with their fire dancing being a particularly popular aspect of their routine.
In addition to the outside performers, several Vassar-based artists, such as Vassar UJIMA and a newly-formed band called Parks and Rec, will be performing.
Bollywood dancers from a class that is conducted here and Richard Lee, the winner of the Battle of the Bands, which is an annual band showcase held by Josselyn House, will also be doing a showcase. Finally, Vassar Sori, the Korean drumming team, will be putting on a special show. Various cultural and ethnic food options will be available, and attendees will be allocated a specific amount of tickets that can be used to purchase the free offerings. The goal is to have as much interaction with the food and activities as possible.
ALANA Fest is distinct from other on-campus events by not only inviting the general Vassar community to this free event but also encouraging the Poughkeepsie community at large to come and enjoy this festival. Najarro comments, “The entire program is free. It’s just a great time to be together and celebrate culture in the springtime right before classes end. It also provides a time for people who may not necessarily know what the ALANA Center is all about to become more informed.” In addition, ALANA Center organizations will also be tabling and have activities for the general public.
When he volunteered to put the event together, Najarro knew it would be a big undertaking. He has coordinated the publicity, programming, performers and the ALANA Center orgs. Anyone can tell that this is a lot for one person to handle. Najarro said, “It’s in less than 10 days…wait eight…oh my God.” The semester is quickly approaching its end, and it is time for members of the Vassar community to come together for this celebration.
This four-year-old tradition is regarded by many as enlightening and vital for the community as a whole, and especially for students of color. Programming assistant at the ALANA Center Nina Nakao ’18 fondly recalled her very first time at ALANA Fest last year, which solidified her commitment to the ALANA Center. She explained, “Last spring was my first semester on staff and the whole day was devoted to created a really fun atmosphere that was also focused on centering people of color. I feel that celebrating people of color is rare on this campus, and to have an event that is purely honoring our culture and ethnicity is essential. I appreciated the atmosphere and that all sorts of people were willing to set aside a day during a really busy time to come together under this event.” “
Altogether, everyone that is working on this event or has attended it has reinforced that it is essentially an inclusive celebration. Najarro commented, “It is part of the ALANA Center, so we encourage all people of color to come and celebrate, but as well as the general Vassar population. We want to share with this community that houses us that we have these cultures and identities and that although we can be critical about them and we definitely fight in different respects, we also know how to celebrate, to have fun and to be thankful for our cultures and our skin colors.”
Unfortunately, Vassar allocates only a small portion of its budget to the ALANA Center, which results in a limited number of events each semester. Besides faculty dialogues and workshops educating students about race and ethnicity, there are not many events that are capable of bringing the campus and people of color together.
Najarro acknowledged the opportunity this event holds for those that crave more ALANA-based events. He said, “The center itself seems to be isolated many times, but this is a way we can get the center out to the residential quad and everyone can see the things that we do and love, we see and we talk about on a regular basis.” ALANA Fest is a rare opportunity of inclusion for every member of the Vassar community in its celebration of cultural and creative expressions.