How do Lion Dancing, Lunar New Year’s parades, and the Beijing Olympics teach us about identity?
By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
One of our Chinese School teachers reached out to me this weekend to ask if I knew where the Chinese School lions were, and if she could borrow them to teach her class of 10-year-olds how to lion dance.
Of course, they’re in my basement.
The only catch is that she has to keep them, she can’t give them back.
I have been taking care of our Chinese School lions for almost 20 years, since my oldest children were in first and second grade, but now my youngest is graduating from high school and Chinese School, and so it is time to pass on the lions.
I should be happy to be getting these three huge boxes out of my basement, but I was so sad. We have lion danced at events big and small all over the state—schools, libraries, organizations, festivals. There were snow storms, car troubles, crowded venues, good and bad meals, disorganized organizers, creative performances, great audiences. We have done it all.
This Lunar New Year, my youngest performed Chinese Yo-Yo at a Detroit Pistons basketball game and at a local Chinese American-owned coffee shop, and he is beginning to learn to navigate these events on his own.
The first Chinatown Lunar New Year’s parade in San Francisco was held in 1851. The first lions and dragon arrived in America a few years later. With its marching bands and beauty queens, the Chinatown Lunar New Year’s parade is an American invention, as well as a mark of cultural pride and a clever way to draw in tourism dollars. Today they are even pan-Asian American. Because of Covid, many parades have been on hiatus for the past two years, but now they are beginning to come back.
We will be watching the parades even as we watch the Beijing Olympics.
On January 30, Asian Americans gathered around the country to stand up together against anti-Asian American violence in several Asian Justice Rallies. January 30 commemorated one year since the day 84-year old Thai American grandfather Vicha Ratanapakdee was violently pushed over for no reason. He later died of his injuries. Coincidentally, January 30 is also Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution.
“My father would want us all to rise above hate and lead with love,” Monthanus Ratanapakdee, Vicha Ratanapakdee’s daughter, said before the march in San Francisco. “If he was alive, he would tell us to be strong and keep on fighting.”