It was like eating with family at the table. One big dinner, filled to the brim with students sharing stories, laughing, and enjoying a meal together.

Centering family and connection to one’s roots were the key themes of the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA)’s 16th Annual Charity Show on April 23. The show, held at the Stevenson Event Center, was the culmination of a year’s worth of planning by members of the organization.

VSA has been on campus for 24 years, serving Vietnamese students and communities beyond through the promotion of cultural knowledge and creating connections within it. Since 2007, the VSA has hosted yearly charity shows to raise awareness of issues within the Vietnamese community.

Proceeds from this year’s show benefited the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center (SEARAC), a non-profit civil rights organization committed to the protection and empowerment of Southeast Asian diaspora living in the United States.

The best part of being a part of [VSA] is the crazy tight knit relationship I was able to have with this group of people,” said Kieffer Manalang, a singer featured in the show. “It reminds me of being back home with my family.”

And with that familial bond at the heart of the night, the show commenced.

During the first hour of the event, attendees enjoyed food catered from King Eggroll in San Jose and drinks from boba chain Teaspoon. To kickstart the night, audiences filled their plate and dined amongst family and friends. All photos by Mia Pabros.

Opening with a flag ceremony, two flag-bearers raised the U.S. and Vietnamese flags, a symbolic gesture of the intersection of these national identities in many VSA members. 

Photographed below: Alyssa Tu and Truongan Nguyentan, the lead organizers of the event, promoted the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center (SEARAC) and let the audience know how to donate to the center.

The first segment of the show, dubbed Paris by Night after the popular and nostalgic Vietnamese-language musical variety series, featured multiple vocal performances: Alyssa Tu and Dylan Doan’s impassioned cover of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” Nam Hoang’s solemn rendition of Đan Nguyên’s ballad “Tôi Vẫn Cô Đơn,” Kieffer Manalang’s rendition of “Well Done” by Jeremy Passion, and Charlotte Muoa’s performance of “Reflection” from Mulan. Photographed below are Moua and Manalang, Paris by Night’s committee heads.

Tina Pham, fourth-year VSA member, choreographed three hip-hop sets to the songs “Just Wanna Rock” by Lil Uzi Vert, “OMG” by NewJeans, and “family ties” by Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar. The audience cheered as the group danced in sync.

The first performances after the intermission were two skits. The first skit depicted the often strained relationships between Vietnamese immigrant parents and their first-generation children, the second, a witty comedy of manners portraying generational gaps within Vietnamese extended families. Snippy dialogue and relatable commentary had the audience nodding and laughing along.

Performers clad in Vietnamese traditional dress known as áo dàis took over the stage, sporting straw hats known as nón lá and utilizing them as props in the dance, with elaborate movements trading hats back and forth with dance partners.

The final event of the night was the VSA royalty show, a mini pageant that utilized donations in exchange for extra votes to raise money. Four contestants took the stage for a talent show and Q&A section. Talents included playing piano, dancing, and even eating spicy ramen while performing a passionate rendition of Silk Sonic’s “Leave the Door Open.” 

The show concluded with the announcement of the pageant winner. Tina Pham was crowned the first ever Miss VSA with a sash and flowers.

Energy bubbled through the crowd as VSA members took to the stage to showcase a range of performances from hip-hop to traditional dances, singing performances, skits, and even a pageant.

Nathan Nguyen, one of the pageant contestants, said he didn’t care about winning or losing. The experience was what mattered most to him. 

“Family is right here,” said Nguyen, gesturing to the crowd. “Everyone is with me, and stays along with me for this ride of life. These people are my family.”

Some of the performances gave students the opportunity to feel a deeper connection with their family, whether they were here in the United States or back in Vietnam. 

Alvin Sandoc, one of the singers of the evening, remembered growing up watching his own parents singing in their church choir.

Now, his parents were in the crowd watching him.

“It’s a full circle for me,” Sandoc said. “Now I get to show them that I’m doing something that matters to me.” 

As the night concluded, the energy did not dissipate. Friends and family that came to watch the show waited to embrace their loved ones.

Before going back into the crowd of family and friends, many of the performers, relieved and proud, took the moment to celebrate with their fellow VSA members. 

“VSA is a home away from home,” said VSA president Jamie Tran. “A big part of growing up in America is the journey you go through of losing your culture, and this is a space [where] I feel I belong.”