Lunar New Year: Welcome the Year of the Ox
Lunar New Year is a time to start fresh, see loved ones, and share in hopes of good things to come.
Associated Press, USA TODAY
When Amanda Nguyễn was growing up in Southern California, Lunar New Year meant counting down to midnight and rushing to the Buddhist temple.
She remembers seeing older family members bring flowers like chrysanthemums to the temple for good luck, firecrackers, red envelopes filled with money and, of course, foods related to Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. .
As an adult, she still plans to visit a temple during the Lunar New Year. But instead of having a big in-person rally the night before, Nguyễn, 30, planned a virtual event to share family traditions and celebrate her heritage with other Vietnamese women. She noted that women have faced much of the violence and harassment targeting the Asian American and Pacific Islander community amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are going through such a difficult time for our community, and the violence is truly healing,” Nguyễn, founder of sexual assault victim advocacy organization Rise, told USA TODAY. “Joy is the most radical form of rebellion.”
It’s a sentiment many Asian Americans expressed to USA TODAY ahead of the Tuesday holiday, which marks the start of the Year of the Tiger. Many have described feeling hopeful and inspired to create change even as they make safety plans to celebrate amid the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing incidents of anti-Asian hatred.
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Anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 339% in 2021 in more than a dozen of the largest US cities, breaking records dating back to the 1990s in New York and Los Angeles, according to an analysis by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 10,300 hate incidents have been reported in the United States to Stop AAPI Hate, which was founded in response to increased targeting of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
The Lunar New Year is a time for the Asian community to rally against rising anti-Asian sentiment, said Russell Jeung, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate.
“It’s a celebration of our heritage and our families,” said Jeung, a sociologist and professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University. “I want our community to really do that this year, respect our elders by addressing the racism we face.”
High profile attacks on Asian Americans, such as the recent murder of Michelle Go on the New York City subway, and personal experiences of hate have prompted Asian Americans like Jacyln, a New York-based doctor, to rethink Lunar New Year plans to celebrate safely. His last name is withheld for confidentiality reasons.
Jacyln’s mother, who is in her 60s, was attacked last March when a stranger punched her in the chest while she was shopping in Little Italy, near New York’s Chinatown.
Jaclyn had been working at the hospital for more than 12 hours, caring for patients with COVID-19, when her mother called, her voice shaking.
“She was telling me how she felt so shocked, depersonalized and just, I think, unable to understand anything that happened,” the 28-year-old said, adding that the man had said to his mother that he had targeted her. “I remember feeling very angry, wishing I was next to her.”
Her mother has been afraid to leave the house for days and remains cautious when she goes out. So this Lunar New Year, Jaclyn, her siblings, parents and grandparents decided to travel together by car to celebrate in Chinatown.
Despite the trauma, Jaclyn said they felt it was important to celebrate the holiday and their heritage, which is Chinese, Burmese and Thai.
“They’re all looking forward to it being the start of a new year, a new chapter, maybe things will be better after that,” she said.
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Camille Hernandez, 33, also created a safety plan to celebrate the holidays in Los Angeles’ Chinatown with her husband, three young children, brother and mother, who is from the Philippines.
Hernandez thought about how they would stay together, what they would do if there was an attack, and how she would talk about it with her children.
“My kids are very multi-ethnic. We’re black, Asian, and Mexican,” she said. “There’s no way to sugarcoat it. We have to say, ‘Hey, it happened because of who we are… It’s a shame people don’t understand, but that doesn’t make us inferior. “”
Even though the Lunar New Year isn’t widely celebrated in the Philippines, Hernandez said she wants her kids to be proud of their identity and the Asian American community, like she does.
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Shielding against COVID-19 has also changed many Americans’ vacation plans. The pandemic has hospitalized and killed Asian Americans at higher rates than white Americans, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Typically, Erika Moritsugu’s children march with lion dancers in the annual parade in Washington, D.C. This year, her family will celebrate at the White House online event, which will include chef demonstrations and cultural performances.
“This is the Year of the Water Tiger, which in the Chinese zodiac means this year is going to be filled with adventure and excitement but also moments that will restore strength, bravery and vitality,” Moritsugu said. “A big part of what excites me this year is the hard work ahead.”
Last year, Moritsugu was named the first-ever senior liaison to the president for the Asian American and Hawaiian Pacific Islander communities. She said the administration is working to get more aggregated data on vaccine access, infection rates and health outcomes for different Asian American communities, as well as address the disproportionate economic impacts on those who often serve in front-line and public-facing professions. .
Last May, President Joe Biden issued an executive action condemning racism and intolerance against Asian Americans.
Jeung, of Stop AAPI Hate, added that he was hopeful about the progress made last year, which includes two states requiring Asian American history to be taught in schools.
“Asian Americans have really raised their voices. I’ve seen the biggest social movement of Asian Americans in my life,” he said. “We really rallied around the issue to bring about change.”
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The trauma suffered by the community has inspired many, like Vivian Teresa Nguyen, to take action and celebrate their heritage with pride, especially during the Lunar New Year.
“My parents didn’t emigrate from Vietnam, they didn’t run away from a war, just for us to come here and take away who we are and take away our culture,” Nguyen, 31, said. “I think it’s extremely important for us to continue to celebrate it loudly and extremely proudly… so much louder than before just to prove that we are here and we have a right to be here.”
Nguyen, a women’s empowerment coach in Las Vegas, said the attacks on her community over the past two years have made her more angry than scared. She channeled this energy to educate others through social media.
“It’s general racism that we’re fighting here, not just Asia-centric,” she said.
Sonni Mun, 52, from New York, has spent the past two years volunteering to bring change to the AAPI community and others.
“I participated in probably 50 Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 because it pains me to see what was happening in other struggling communities,” Mun said.
At the start of the pandemic, she also came out of retirement as a doctor to volunteer with COVID-19 patients, even though she was afraid of being attacked on the subway to get to the hospital.
“I’m a little scared, but if I don’t try to actively participate in making things better, it’s only going to get worse,” she said, adding that she finds hope in his son.
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St. Louis TV news anchor Michelle Li recently started a foundation to amplify various AAPI voices after receiving a racist voicemail calling her ‘very Asian’ because she briefly mentioned eating dumplings to celebrate the news. year on the air.
“What happened to me earlier this year really opened my eyes to the beauty of each of us having different but shared experiences as Asian Americans,” Li said, 42 years old. Voicemail “was really a gift because it became a point of pride for a lot of people”.
Li, a transracial adoptee, hasn’t always celebrated the Lunar New Year. As a child, she did not participate in deep bow ceremonies or eat traditional tteokguk rice cake soup on Seollal, which is Korean New Year.
She reconnected with her Korean family and now incorporates Korean traditions into her adult life. But she still sometimes struggles with not feeling “Asian enough.”
She hopes to celebrate the Lunar New Year at an event in St. Louis with dancing and street food, and one thing is certain:
“We need to incorporate dumplings,” she laughed.
Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg and Eve Chen on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg and @chenwilliams
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