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Spreading the Wealth

Michelle Lam shares her experiences bestowing blessings and prosperity to local business with the Texas Dragon/Lion Dance Team
Michelle Lam

During the months of February and March, the Texas Dragon/Lion Dance Team (TDDT) is in high demand, performing before crowds at restaurants, weddings and local businesses during the height of the Lunar New Year season. For Michelle Lam, co-president of TDDT, this is the most wonderful time of year.

 “I love this time of year when so many lion dances are happening across the city,” says Lam, who recently earned her B.S. in psychology this spring. “I love the atmosphere of people celebrating together, and it’s great to have restaurant owners reaching out to us to bless their businesses.”

Lam especially enjoys the elements of puppetry, kung fu and artistry weaved into every performance.

“As a kid, I watched ‘Kung Fu Panda’ and loved it so much,” says Lam, whose mother came to the United States from Singapore, her father from Hong Kong. “The Dragon/Lion dance speaks to my inner child and gives me the opportunity to do kung fu, which is something I’ve always wanted to do, but my parents discouraged it because they wanted me to assimilate.”

Another fun element of the show, she notes, is watching performers accepting offerings from the crowd, which include pieces of oranges and lettuce thrown in the air (spreading of wealth). Dancers also bring tidings of good fortune by passing the red envelope.

“I love watching the crowd as they ‘feed the lion’ by stuffing dollars into the red envelope, which symbolizes good fortune and wealth,” she says.

Among the many benefits of participating in the dance team—the free food, the thrilling performances, the honor of blessing local businesses—Lam is most grateful for finding her community on this large campus so far from her home in Plano, Texas.

“When I came to UT, I ended up at a point where I was struggling and needed to find a community,” Lam says. “It really helped to connect with people from the same cultural background—and it’s refreshing to see this kind of diversity in a city where the Texas Capitol is right down the street.”

In addition to the TDDT, Lam joined (un)Jaded is a student-run service organization that works to destigmatize mental health and encourage social advocacy among the AAPI community. Together, they work to provide a broader understanding of the Asian American experience and dispel harmful stereotypes.

“There’s this double-edged sword of the ‘model minority’ stereotype,” Lam says. “People assume I’m smarter and more qualified, which seems positive, but it’s very harmful. With the rise of anti-Asian hate during COVID, this belief only made things worse, causing us to become more left out in places where we are the minority.”

Now as Lam embarks on the next exciting chapter in her life, she aims to continue making an impact by working in public policy. Before heading off to graduate school at George Washington University in Washington, DC, she is passing down some words of wisdom for future Longhorns.

“Look around and you’ll find likeminded people who may become lifelong friends,” Lam says. “Take this time to find yourself and give yourself grace while exploring your identity.”