LUNAR NEW YEAR IN AMERICA. A customer purchases red envelopes, which
are gifted as a symbol of good luck, for the Lunar New Year in the
Chinatown district of Los Angeles on January 28, 2022. Lunar New Year
celebrations in honor of the Year of the Tiger began on February 1 amid
warnings against travel and large gatherings due to COVID-19. (AP
From The Asian Reporter, V32, #2 (February 7, 2022), page 7.
Asian Americans mark Lunar New Year amid ongoing
By Terry Tang
The Associated Press
For two years now, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across the
country have endured racist verbal, physical, and sometimes deadly
attacks fuelled by the coronavirus pandemic.
With the start of the Lunar New Year, many are looking forward to
carrying out family traditions and joining in community celebrations
throughout February. These include family dinners and giving children
red envelopes filled with money. New York, Chicago, and San Francisco
are among the cities with parades planned later this month in their
The Year of the Tiger — a zodiac symbol that represents strength and
courage — also is the perfect time to convince Asian elders who have
lived in fear because of widespread anti-Asian sentiment to join in the
"We really just want to share our culture, and basically be able to
celebrate this joyous event with everyone," said William Gee, a longtime
organizer of San Francisco’s annual Chinese New Year Parade & Festival.
"Just the presence alone in numbers, it might actually deter anything —
any malicious or nefarious activity that might be planned."
While most Lunar New Year revelry was sidelined last year because of
COVID-19, many outdoor events are returning with organizers encouraging
masking for the public but mandating them for staff. The various parades
will feature floats, marching bands, lion dances — and even "Star Wars"
cosplayers in San Francisco.
"I hope anyone that is actually in fear of stepping outdoors because
of everything that’s been happening can find assurance and a bit of
solace, in terms of coming to an event where you’re going to be
surrounded by like people," Gee said.
Several cities that are holding parades and festivals held rallies
recently marking the one-year anniversary of the deadly attack on Vicha
Ratanapakdee. The 84-year-old Thai American was assaulted while walking
in his San Francisco neighborhood.
His death was one of the first reported in what has been a series of
fatal incidents targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The
grim anniversary came just a couple of weeks after the death of Michelle
Alyssa Go in New York City’s Times Square. The 40-year-old died after a
mentally unstable man shoved her in front of a subway.
Amanda Nguyen, an activist whose January 2021 Instagram video
highlighting attacks on elderly Asians gained wide attention, said the
continuous hostility is all the more reason to openly celebrate Asian
cultures. Having fun with family and friends isn’t dismissing tragedy
but rather "the most radical form of rebellion."
"I know that it’s a difficult time, but Lunar New Year is a joyous
celebration that’s deeply rooted in community," Nguyen said. "I want
people to know that you can grieve. You can collectively grieve, heal,
and also make space to be you, to have joy."
Russell Jeung, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, which has been tracking
incidents nationwide based on victims self-reporting, said nervous
elders in Chinatowns are stuck in "de facto segregation." For two years,
they’ve limited themselves to certain streets or neighborhoods.
"So to honor our elders, we really need to help address that sense of
isolation, by making them again feel included, safe, and secure," Jeung
said. "You do that by ... taking them out, escorting them around,
bringing them shopping, inviting them to the meals, and then working for
broader safety in the community."
Earlier this month, the San Francisco Police Department reported that
anti-Asian hate crimes in 2021 jumped 567% from 2020. Preliminary data
collected by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism indicates
Los Angeles and New York also saw record highs of anti-Asian hate
incidents. Georgia saw the most fatalities after the March 2021
Atlanta-area spa business shootings that left six Asian women dead.
Initial figures from individual police agencies indicate anti-Asian
hate crime overall in the U.S. increased 339% in 2021, compared to a
124% rise in 2020, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and
Extremism. Many people attribute the trend to former President Donald
Trump talking about the coronavirus, which first appeared in China, in
"The data is just so horrific that to see it confirmed in other
sources, it doesn’t surprise us and validates what we know," Jeung said.
Nguyen thinks incorporating more Asian American and Pacific Islander
history in K-12 education can help change the climate in the future. She
has been organizing petitions in various states.
"That’s when people are learning about everything. I think that a lot
of hate, the xenophobia, that professional foreigner stereotype, even
‘yellow fever,’ the way that AAPIs are characterized — that stems from
ignorance," Nguyen said, using the acronym for Asian Americans and
Pacific Islanders. "Let’s celebrate the people who have broken
U.S. representative Grace Meng last week announced proposed
legislation to make Lunar New Year a federal holiday. Its passage would
show Asian Americans their government values the holiday, the New York
Democrat said in a statement.
Bing Tang, of Monterey Park, California, says he doesn’t dwell too
much on anti-Asian hate because nothing would come of it. Tang, who was
shopping in Los Angeles’ Chinatown for tiger decorations for a family
dinner of steamed chicken, fish, and lobster, said fortunately neither
he nor anyone close to him has experienced any harassment or attacks.
"There’s good people, bad people all around the country," Tang said.
"I just go out normally and just have a positive attitude. What can we
do? We only can control ourselves and be nice to other people."
Associated Press photographer Damian Dovarganes in Los Angeles
contributed to this report. Tang reported from Phoenix and is a member
of The Associated Press’ Race and Ethnicity team.
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