By tuli alexander

From 7 to 10 p.m. on May 30 the Ethnic Student Center (ESC), home to a dozen clubs on campus, will be hosting their ninth annual International Night at the PAC Mainstage.

International Night is a space to showcase the talent of students in the ESC as well as a chance for the entire Western community to participate, said ESC Events Coordinator Maribel Galvan.

“It’s a spectacular showcase of culture, identity and voice,” said Michael Vendiola, coordinator and activities advisor for the ESC.

Not only will it provide an opportunity for people to widen their perspective of the types of students that participate in the ESC, but it’s inspiring for attendees and helps them examine their own cultural identity, Vendiola said.

Of the approximately 12 acts that have signed up so far, five couples from the Western Swing Kids group will be performing, said club Co-President Mari Rueter. The performance group will be dancing to the song “Shout and Feel It” by Count Basie, she said. The group has been practicing since the end of January.

“We really like coming out and performing, showing what swing dance is all about,” Rueter said.

Swing dance has cultural roots in African dances that developed in America because it’s primarily based on jazz music, she said.

In another act, Jazz Espiritu will be playing his guitar and singing songs he composed himself. This year he has been involved with the ESC as an officer with the Filipino American Student Association, he said.

“I want to use my performance to explain who I am and how my culture has affected me and the music I write,” Espiritu said.

International Night was started in 2001 by India Mystica, now called the South Asian Students Association, Vendiola said. The club wanted to showcase not only their own culture, but all cultures, and the ESC took it on as an annual event.

Tickets for this event cost $5 for Western students with ID and $7 for the general public.

For the last two years the money from ticket prices has been going into an ESC scholarship account, Vendiola said. The proceeds from this year’s show will be going there as well. The past two years have seen proceeds of approximately $1,000 each, Vendiola said.

The scholarships will be made available for the first time this year for incoming freshman and transfer students and will emphasize academic success and leadership potential, he said.

A lot of underrepresented students come to a university environment and they don’t always see their community representing them there, Galvan said.
Vendiola said that as a student attending Whatcom Community College, he didn’t find any groups that represented him there. In response to that, he got involved with the Native American Student Union when he transferred to Western in the fall of 1991.

The ESC opened on April 1, 1991, with Vendiola as one of the student initiators at the time.

The main motivations behind forming the ESC was students of color trying to find a safe space and a place to feel connected, Vendiola said.

“Students created a movement in response to the trend that higher colleges and universities were capitalizing on: diversity,” he said. “Back then it was a little bit shortsighted because back then diversity meant people of color.”

Instead, the concept of diversity is really an effort to acknowledge underrepresentation and inequity in higher education. Diversity can embody things like class, race and gender issues, sexual orientation and ability, Vendiola said.

The unions that brought about the ESC were the African, Native American, Asian/Pacific Islander and Latino Student Unions. They each wanted their own center, but after negotiating with the university, who said it wasn’t physically possible to create four different centers, the concept of a single ESC came about.

Creating a single ESC instead of four separate centers turned out to be a blessing in disguise, Vendiola said. The different organizations came together, identified their common issues and became common allies for each other. They began supporting each other’s events and causes out in the community, he said.

“It’s an ideal situation for an ideal effort,” he said. “You would never see as deep of a collaboration across ethnic lines as you do here.”

The ESC becomes a second home for a lot of people who are a part of it, Galvan said.

“It’s not only just a place to call home but also a place to be more than just a student here at Western,” she said.