NU students celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival with community events, lantern lightings


Photo courtesy of the Vietnamese Student Association

The Vietnamese Student Association hosted the group’s first-ever Mid-Autumn celebration Friday. About 50 students attended the event, enjoying traditional Vietnamese food and drink, decorating lanterns on the Lakefill and looking at the moon.

Avani Kalra, Reporter

Quynh-May Nguyen never celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival away from her family before. This year, the Weinberg junior turned to her on-campus Vietnamese community.

This year’s Mid-Autumn celebration fell on Sept. 21, the first day of fall classes at Northwestern. The Vietnamese Student Association, of which Nguyen is co-president, hosted the group’s first-ever Mid-Autumn celebration Friday. About 50 students attended the sunset event, enjoying traditional Vietnamese food and drink, decorating lanterns on the Lakefill and looking at the moon, Nguyen said.

“We wanted to capture the same essence,” Nguyen said. “We couldn’t spend time with our families, so we spent time with our own kind of Vietnamese family here.”

Countries throughout East and Southeast Asia celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival, annually on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month — which is thought to have the fullest moon of the year. Traditions include enjoying seasonal foods, lighting lanterns and admiring the moon.  

Weinberg sophomore YueXi Mo, cultural co-chair of the Chinese Students Association, had also never celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival without his family. But he said his parents still attempted to make the day special for him. 

“My parents (had) bought me mooncakes, a dessert typically eaten at the holiday, and we actually forgot them when I moved in this year,” he said. “They drove all the way back over the weekend and dropped them off for me (even though) they live an hour and a half away.” 

While he enjoyed the mooncakes with his friends, Mo said he still wanted to celebrate with the larger NU Chinese community. He’s organizing an Oct. 8 Mid-Autumn Celebration in Norris University Center, complete with mooncakes, snacks, trivia games and a lantern-painting project where students can decorate, light and release 60 biodegradable lanterns.

Mo said he especially hopes new students and members will feel more at home in CSA after the celebration. 

“My hometown is in Wisconsin, and it’s not a very culturally diverse area,” Mo said. “(CSA) is a great way for me to meet people who I can relate to on a more personal and cultural basis. That’s something really special I’ve been missing for the past 18 years of my life.”

Unlike Nguyen and Mo, Bienen sophomore Sarah Chong does not usually celebrate Mid-Autumn at home. But this year, she decided to spend the festival with a group of Bienen graduate students from Korea whom she met through a friend.  

To celebrate, Chong and her new friends played traditional Korean games including Go and Yut Nori and ate traditional Korean food. She said this was one of her first experiences finding a solid Korean community among “complete strangers” on NU’s campus. 

“It was interesting because we all had a commonality, and we were all there to celebrate this special day,” Chong said. “It was nice to have older students teaching me, as the younger one, a tradition I might not have experienced otherwise.” 

Nguyen had a similar vision for the Vietnamese Student Association’s event, citing how “isolated” she felt during her freshman year because of her cultural identity. The Vietnamese community on campus is small and can sometimes feel invisible, Nguyen added.

Vietnamese invisibility is a national problem, she said. Unlike most Asian immigrants, the majority of Vietnamese Americans arrived in the U.S. as refugees and asylum-seekers in and after the 1970s. 

“If you look at the Vietnamese community, we have lower visibility, lower rates of educational attainment, lower average income, higher rates of mental illness and disability,” Nguyen said. “It’s not acknowledged because we’re put under this giant umbrella of East Asian (when in fact Vietnamese people are Southeast Asian).” 

Nguyen said she often hears Mid-Autumn referenced as an exclusively Chinese holiday. On campus, Nguyen said the Vietnamese Student Association could not secure Associated Student Government funding for their Mid-Autumn celebration, despite repeated requests. 

When planning for CSA’s Mid-Autumn Festival, Mo said he stumbled across an Instagram post for the Vietnamese Student Association event — unaware the association had even existed.

“The Southeast Asian population has a pretty low visibility at Northwestern,” Nguyen said. “That’s what we’re trying to fix right now with events like these.”

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify language regarding the Southeast Asian community in a quote in which a source misspoke.

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Twitter: @avanidkalra

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