San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade is a community fair.
One of the most soul-fulfilling aspects of traveling is experiencing a new culture and sense of community. San Francisco celebrates its heritage each year with a display of local talents and merchandise, and jetsetters worldwide take notice. We caught up with some of San Francisco’s Chinatown locals to ask them about the festivities.
Jo, a partially blind street musician, has been playing the Erhu for Chinatown’s Community Fair for almost twenty years:
JST: What is your favorite feature of Chinese New Year in San Francisco?
Jo: In Chinatown, people are never shy about helping each other. Some of the citizens here have only been in the States for a few years, so they are not quite accommodated to American life. The parade helps us show them that we are all friends and willing to share a hand. It’s a China away from China, but also a whole new culture to experience—the United States. The parade and the fair is our way of showing our pride to the people who have come very far from their homes to witness a great display of Chinese heritage.
JST: Tell us about your part in the Community Fair.
Jo: I play the Erhu, which is kind of like a Chinese version of the violin. It’s fairly easy to learn, but terribly hard to master. The two strings, though separated by the bow-hairs, together create a harmony, just as the water falling down from a waterfall and a river do. The waters are separated by rocks, but when they touch, make the music of nature. This kind of old-fashioned music is hardly around anymore, so I am able to show visitors one of the great arts of China.
Not only do old veterans play a great role in the Community Fair, young people do as well. Sarah and Zoe are teenagers who work at the Malaysian booths at the fair:
JST: Why did you decide to help out this year for Chinese New Year?
Zoe: I’ve never been to Malaysia, since I was born here in the States, so I thought it would be a great learning opportunity for me. I’ve actually found out several things about where I’m from that I never knew before, simply from preparing for Chinese New Year. I also wanted to wear the costumes—I thought they were very beautiful.
Sarah: My mom wanted to show me how many people loved this city—people who lived here, and people who’ve never been here before. I agreed because it was a good way to get involved.
Lonnie helped sell goldfish during the Community Fair:
JST: How has Chinese New Year and the Community Fair affected you personally?
Lonnie: For me, it was a way for my aunt and I to get closer. She always worked at the fair, so I wanted to get to know her better. Besides that, Chinese New Year is fun! For someone who doesn’t get to go back to Taiwan as often as she wishes, it’s a good way to chase away homesickness.
For others, the Community Fair is a way to boost business and grow the local economy. XinLie grows and sells bamboo plants, and Chinese New Year is a time where his sales boom:
JST: Tell us more about how the fair and how it impacts the neighborhood.
XinLie: Oh, it’s always a positive impact. Besides getting everyone together, it’s a huge help for the local businesses. People come from all over the U.S. to see a large Chinatown put on a show, so that’s what we give them. And they always want souvenirs, so they buy a lot of bamboo. I get to explain what bamboo means to the Chinese and they get to have a little piece of one of the oldest cultures in the world. Almost everyone who lives here has a great time in February.
However, the Community Fair is not the only venue where locals get involved. Mai’tian is a young woman who works in banking during the day and moonlights as an acrobat. She says Chinese New Year is the time of the year for her to show off her skills:
JST: What do you do for the Chinese New Year parade?
Mai’tian: I act as one of the operators for the huge dragon in the finale of the parade. It’s really challenging to get all the moves right so that it seems the dragon is moving naturally. We’re all volunteers—we don’t get paid for doing this, so it’s really hard to get everyone together to practice. But in the end, it’s worth it to see the wonder on everyone’s faces. It’s quite an amazing finale, and I’m always really surprised to see how talented everyone is!
Article written by Wenxi Zhang.