Speaking out for tsunami victims

Ready to open up his heart to everyone at the Tsunami Relief Open Mic marathon, Andrew Spiegel walked on the UC Patio stage. He sang Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” and read the heartfelt testimony he wrote in memory of his high school friend Aroil, whom he lost in the tsunami. Fighting back tears, the UM sophomore hoped his reading would put a face on the tragedy.

“Numbers are just numbers, but when you think about a funny guy with a goofy grin who said, ‘I’ll see you at the reunion’ and then is gone, there’s a new spin on it,’ Spiegel said.

Concerned students like Spiegel, who are looking for ways to raise awareness among their peers, are one of the main reasons M. Evelina Galang, assistant professor in the Department of English, organized the Tsunami Relief Open Mic Marathon.

“After the tsunami hit, I wanted to do something, but like everyone else after the holidays I had little in my bank account,” Galang said. “I heard that published authors would do readings for free and all the money would go towards tsunami relief. I liked the concept of a community-centered event.”

Galang called up the sponsors and student volunteers from the Screaming Monkeys symposium held last October and proposed the idea to them. With the help of various offices around campus, students and faculty came together as a community on the UC Patio to gather support for and express their emotions in the face of tragedy.

The Bookstore displayed books written by authors of the areas affected by the tsunami that spectators grabbed in exchange for donations. Works read by the students were sponsored by generous donors, much like a walk-a-thon. All proceeds went to the American Red Cross International Response Fund for the Tsunami Victims of South East Asia and East Africa.

“The victims in Asia need it more than I do,” said Brian Channon, senior, who sponsored a friend’s performance.

The readers performed their own work or picked a story or poem from a provided selection of pieces by authors from affected regions like Rumi and Kabrir. This gave as many as 250 spectators who filled the patio throughout the day the opportunity to browse through the pieces and share a work that they felt most inspiring with an audience of their peers.

Vikram Jagadish, junior, was one of the spectators who, inspired by the courage and passion of the performers, signed up to perform on stage himself. Before reading his original work titled “Chillai Kalan,” he thanked the audience.

“I’m honored to read my work in my native tongue which is so close to my heart,” Jagadish said.

At the showcase’s end, Galang suggested making the Open Mic Marathon an annual event.

“Some have expressed using this venue-Open Mic Marathon -to continue to raise awareness in culture, in social justice and in funding in the future,” Galang said. “Perhaps next semester, we can explore the possibilities of relieving the AIDS epidemic in Africa with words, spoken and otherwise.”

Cecille Lucero can be contacted at c.lucero1@umiami.edu.