May is Asian Pacific Heritage Month and the celebration continued with Urban Roots of Poetic Justice: A Spoken Word Event. The event was hosted by Asian Pacific Student Programs (APSP) who brought along special guests, acclaimed poets Dante Basco and G. Yamazawa.
The event took place at The Barn on a cool Thursday night, May 11. Slowly but surely, students began to pour into the small and intimate space as APSP members handed out phone pockets and wrist lanyards with “API Heritage Month 2017” labeled onto them, which everyone excitedly took. Complimentary soft drinks were also provided, giving the attendees an extra kick of sugar and energy that was needed for the vulnerable and remarkable performances that were yet to come.
Alanna Anguren, a third-year gender and sexuality studies major, was the emcee for the evening. She began with a few giveaways, asking a few general questions about Asian Pacific Heritage Month and upcoming APSP events, and those who answered correctly earned a free T-shirt. After the giveaways, she reminded the audience what spoken word is all about: “Poetry is used to be empowering. It’s used so we can be vulnerable,” she remarked.
First off was Allen Estrellado, a second-year mechanical engineering major, who began the student performance section of the night. He performed two of his pieces, with one of them being about finding one’s identity and the other about not taking the chance to go after a girl he was infatuated with. The rhythm of his words and how he effortlessly moved across the stage, kickstarted the evening into high gear.
When stepping onto the stage, I could see the nerves that were starting to creep up on the performers. Not only were they performing, but they were opening up a part of themselves, allowing them to be vulnerable in front of an audience. Aaron Hipolito wrote about his older cousin who was emotionally and verbally abusive toward him. Tamara Hossain addressed her motherland of Bangladesh, and her journey into accepting and loving where she came from. Then one student brought a wave of emotion over the audience when she told everyone how her classmate from high school passed away just the day before the spoken word event. The break in her voice and the tears from her eyes poured out honestly as she began singing Kendrick Lamar’s “Sing About Me,” which got a few people to quietly sing along with her.
Then it was time for the two main performers. Actor and dancer Dante Basco took the stage to a burst of applause. Basco is an advocate for getting Asian-Americans to write and produce their own material, and is widely popular for voicing the characters of our childhood, Jake Long in “American Dragon: Jake Long” and Prince Zuko from “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”
Although a substantial portion of the audience knew Basco from his career in voice acting, the night was all about showing a different side of him which was the intuitive and outstanding poet that he is. He took the crowd into his world, talking about where he came from and intimate relationships that he had. He also recited poems about his well-beloved characters, chanting the theme song to “American Dragon: Jake Long” which made everyone hoot and holler as they were transported back into their childhood. He even recited a poem he wrote about Prince Zuko, which received just as much praise and excitement as his Jake Long chant.
To close out the evening, Anguren introduced G. Yamazawa, who is hailed as one of the greatest spoken word artists in the country. It didn’t take long for him to showcase why he’s earned this title. Yamazawa was downright mesmerizing, perfectly moving from traditional storytelling into his poetry. The audience was completely entranced with his performance. We felt his words, snapping, clapping and shouting “woos” when they connected to his poetry. Yamazawa left the audience with a few laughs, powerful insights on what it’s like to live as an Asian-American and an incredibly memorable performance.
Once all the performers were done, some students stayed behind to take photos with Yamazawa and chat with other student performers. This event allowed people to open up and it also highlighted the beauty of spoken word as an art form. It was an amazing evening that fostered a sense of community to ensure fellow students that there is always someone willing to listen.