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Bay Area gets ready for raft of special Lunar New Year festivities

By Chang Jun | China Daily USA | Updated: 2018-01-23 17:19

As the clock ticks toward the Year of the Dog on Feb 16, preparations for celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year, A.K.A. the Spring Festival, are in full swing at the government, business and community levels in San Francisco and beyond.

On Jan 12, California state senators introduced a bill requiring the government to designate Lunar New Year a day of special significance and the governor to honor the festival annually.

"Lunar New Year is an incredibly important day for so many communities in California," said State Senator Scott Wiener, lead author of the bill. "In San Francisco, our Asian and Pacific Islander cultures are the center of a world class Lunar New Year celebration that draws people from all over the state and country."

The bill also encourages all public schools and educational institutions to conduct exercises recognizing the cultural significance of the Lunar New Year, the contributions of Asian and Pacific Islander Californians to the state and any local festivities and celebrations for the occasion.

Xiao Xiayong, cultural consul at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, said many artists and troupes from China will join the area's festive chorus this year.

Since 2001, China's Ministry of Culture has been sending performance troupes to selected cities in the world, aiming to spread the cultural significance of the Spring Festival and enhance multi-tier exchanges.

"This is the first time that our artists will travel to all consular districts from Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Alaska," he said.

"The main message is clear - we want to spread the joy and harmony of the Spring Festival and share our traditions with local communities," he added.

Artists from Beijing, Tianjin, Heilongjiang and Hubei provinces will bring their music, dance, photography, acrobatics and other gifts to the US. Some examples of intangible cultural heritage from Beijing - such as clay figures, shadow plays and sugar figure blowing - will also be on display.

"The first of the serial cultural activities will take place on Feb 10 to kick off this year's Happy Spring Festival event, and last will be in early March," Xiao said, adding all the performances are aligned with local mainstream partners and aimed at direct dialogues with local communities.

One of this year's highlights, said Xiao, is the "Spring Festival Celebration entering American schools, an attempt that is really trying to connect Chinese culture with American children and their teachers."

Organized by Able2shine Foundation (A2S), a San Francisco-based platform that specializes in cultivating the soft skills of Asian-American children, the school-related cross-cultural events involve many parent volunteers to jumpstart, coordinate and execute, said the organizer.

"We first need to select participating schools - they need to be physically qualified to host performance troupes from China's Beijing and Heilongjiang province," said Luo Ping, founder of A2S.

After filtering all applicants, they decided on 15, a combination of public and private schools. "From San Francisco, Peninsular, South Bay to East Bay, these schools geographically cover the entire Bay Area," Luo said.

Gary Wang, who is tutoring student announcers at the 15 schools, said the events are "great opportunities to sprinkle in some of our tradition and open up our world to American eyes."

For the world to "see us Asian and Asian Americans in a different light rather than the existing stereotypes, it's important for us to fit in with American customs but also retain the values that make us so unique," he said.

Among a few jurisdictions in California that have already designated Lunar New Year as an official school holiday, San Francisco traditionally leads the nation in celebrating the Spring Festival. Its Chinatown is considered the oldest and the largest of its kind outside of Asia and dates back to the 1860s. Its annual Chinese New Year Parade is ranked among the top 10 parades in the world.

"I believe people are more aware of the traditions that occur around the Chinese New Year, but not sure if people know that much more about our traditions and why our traditions exist," said Wang. "Understanding our traditions is imperative if we hope to integrate ourselves in American society."

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