Brimming with beautiful music, savory food and vibrant life, the architecture courtyard was transformed into a bustling Asian night market on Friday evening for UM’s annual Lantern Festival.
The two-hour festival, which was a blend of lantern and mid-autumn festivals celebrated across Asia, was hosted by the Asian American Students Association (AASA) in collaboration with the School of Architecture (USoA) Student Council from 8 to 10 p.m. on Oct. 21.
The event featured activities from cultural organizations such as the Filipino Students Association, Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers and the Muslim Students of the University of Miami.
Brandon Quiroz, a sophomore double majoring in health studies and French, enjoyed the activities that Lantern Festival had to offer.
“It was really fun going around to every stand and seeing all the different cultural booths,” Quiroz said. “My favorite activity was the board game where you had to flick a tile in the corner. I didn’t make it in, but it was really fun.”
The biggest feature of the event were the free giveaways that students could earn if they completed five of the eight activities — mooncakes, water lanterns and boba tea, items that quickly ran out an hour after the event began.
But among the busy atmosphere and long lines for boba tea, students found themselves learning more about Asian cultures.
“I was already informed on certain aspects of Asian culture being South Asian myself, but the event introduced me to cultural niches,” said Manisha Woodruff, a sophomore majoring in global health studies and microbiology and immunology. “Clubs that tabled, such as Anime club and LOCKED K-pop dance team, introduced me to aspects of Asian culture that I wasn’t familiar with.”
Student Government president Jamie Williams-Smith also enjoyed the sharing of cultures at the event.
“I really enjoyed seeing so many students come out here and support this event and learning more about Asian American culture, what the lantern festival means and really creating community around this event,” Williams-Smith said.
For organizations that tabled at Lantern Festival, it was a chance to introduce their cultures to new audiences.
Vatsal Lahoti, a sophomore business technology major, tabled for Delta Epsilon Psi (DEPsi), the South Asian service fraternity.
“I think it’s just a fun place to be and teach people this fun game that you’ve grown up with,” Lahoti said.
But having cultural events at the university goes beyond just sharing customs, games and food: it’s about acknowledging underrepresented groups and highlighting them in meaningful ways.
“It’s important because you need to spread awareness that these organizations do exist and these people do exist,” senior architecture major Nandha Ravi said.
He, along with sophomore computer science major Prabhat Datre also represented DEPsi.
“UM is a very diverse campus so representation is always good,” Datre said.
For Williams-Smith, learning about other cultures is a necessity for allyship as well.
“Learning more and participating and actually engaging with people who don’t look like you is really essential so that they can learn more and learn how to best serve as an ally,” Williams-Smith said.
Planning such an event was no easy feat. Historically, AASA and USoA had collaborated in planning Lantern Festival. But after COVID-19 put a pause on large-scale events, Lantern Festival was adapted into a smaller-scale celebration in 2021 that was led primarily by AASA.
Mariam Khadr, a third-year architecture student and president of the USoA Student Council, spoke about the return to collaborating with AASA.
“We all had to do research,” Khadr said. “[We] had to get together with [AASA] and go from scratch to figure out what we can do to make this work and given everything, I think we did a great job pulling it together and I’m very happy with the turnout.”
With more than 600 guests attending, business analytics senior and AASA president Mintra Putlek was beyond ecstatic.
“I literally cried tears of joy, relief and comfort,” Putlek said.
For Putlek, nostalgic feelings from her childhood celebrating Loy Krathong, Thailand’s own lantern festival, made hosting the event even more important for her.
“I grew up celebrating [it] at the local Thai temple in Homestead,” Putlek said. “Homestead doesn’t have a river nearby, so what the Thai temple did was bring in a makeshift pool to mimic the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok. We would make lotus flower lanterns and that would be my little thanksgiving tradition.”
At the festival’s closure, students were able to send off their decorated water lanterns onto Lake Osceola, creating a beautiful sight of lights at the heart of the campus. The lanterns were not only a symbol for peace and happiness, but a physical display of the Asian presence at the university.
“Lantern festival is so beautiful because it has such a unique place within the UM community,” Putlek said. “It’s a blend of lantern festivals from all over Asia. From China’s Mid-Autumn festival, to India’s Diwali, to Thailand’s Loy Krathong festival, so many countries have their own versions of [the lantern festival]. I think it’s so beautiful and amazing to share that with the UM community.”
Lantern festival is one of AASA’s two largest annual events. You can follow AASA on Instagram @aasaum for updates about future events and more. You can also follow the USoA Student Council on Instagram @usoa_stuco.