The lunar new year provides a gathering for a community to foster strength and healing.
The Lunar New Year Parade
Chicagoans clutched their boba in mittened hands while anxious parents and children waited with foggy, bated breath to witness the Lunar New Year parade on Sunday. Paradegoers from all ages braved the cold to watch Chicago’s Chinatown community ring in the Year of the Rabbit with local marching bands, colorful floats, and the iconic, traditional dragon and lion dances. The Lunar New Year, celebrated by numerous Asian cultures, commemorates the start of a new year. It is a time spent with family and friends and to wish others prosperity and wealth.
Recent violence in the community nationally, with shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, California, along with a 77% increase of targeted hate crimes toward the Asian community after the COVID-19 pandemic, has made the need for community events and gatherings even more vital.
Violence and Resilience
Grace Chan McKibben, the executive director for the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, is concerned that the recent shootings and past violence have impacted an already vulnerable people. She explained that the violence experienced by Asian Americans has deeply impacted the community and that the mental health of the collective community has suffered greatly.
“There’s still a lot of unresolved trauma and mental health issues and not just for Asian Americans, and I think this incident highlights the need for more awareness of the issue in our particular community, “ said McKibben.
McKibben explained how the stigma about receiving help in the community impacts the willingness to reach out. She feels that people don’t know where or when to reach out because of the lack of discussion surrounding the mental health of Asian Americans.
“Often, folks just assume that there are no mental health problems,” said McKibben.
This is far from the truth, explained McKibben. She says that the community is fraught with generational trauma, and the violence that occurs in countries like Cambodia and Vietnam has affected Chinatown’s population as well.
Ald. Nicole Lee (11th) has also recognized the need for uplifting community in the face of recent events. She feels that starting at a personal, face-to-face level of empathy could be the first step to bringing communities together.
“We need to look out for one another, more and more, I don’t care what you look like,” said Lee.
“A ‘Hi, hello, how are you doing?’ It makes all the difference.”
However, this lack of discussion isn’t the only thing holding back the community from receiving the aid it needs, says McKibben. She believes that the effects of this exclusion have been harmful to the interest and needs of Asian communities.
“I think that, overall, Asian Americans are not automatically included in public issues or public policy discourse,” McKibben said. She explained the effects of this exclusion.
“A lot of times, your specific needs are not met, or people make assumptions,” said McKibben. She explained how diverse the Asian American community is, and how each of them have different wants and needs.
“By including as many Asian American voices as possible, policies can be made to meet the needs and the diversity of all these different populations, rather than people making assumptions that all Asian Americans are the same,” said McKibben.
However, in the face of violence and racial hatred, the community has still been able to persevere. Thousands of people lined the streets under the paper lanterns to witness this fight of resilience.
“I think you saw today, everybody coming on together, so we’re not going to live in fear,” said Lee, shivering from the cold aftermath of the parade. “I’m really encouraged by the amount of people that are out here today. That, despite what happened a week ago in Monterey Park and what happened in Half Moon Bay, people didn’t allow those events to stop them from coming out and gathering and, I mean, this is what we need! We need more of this.”
The Lee Family and Community
Lee is not the first in her family to get involved. Her family has been a part of Chinatown’s community for generations. Her father, Gene Lee, is a former aide to Mayor Richard M. Daley. He leads Chinatown Special Events, including the Lunar New Year parade. Gene also is the founder of the Chicago’s Dragons Athletic Association, which his son, Daron Lee, helps lead. Daron Lee feels that events like the Lunar New Year allow for the Chinatown community to thrive. He feels, like his sister, that the community must persevere in the face of violence.
“You know, we can’t let that deter us, right? We have to keep going with our events, and we’re not scared of it,” said Daron Lee. He stood behind a foldable table, laid out with tiny red plush rabbits. Children swamped in their coats, peeked their noses over the table to get a glimpse of the cute stuffed bunnies. Lee helped behind the table to raise money for the Chinatown Dragon Athletic Association. He feels like the parade allows for the community to not only gather with each other, but share what makes it so special.
Daron Lee said the celebrations give the Dragons a chance to spread their tradition and culture whenever people come to Chinatown.
““It’s been difficult over the past few years, but it’s great now that we’re back. People are coming to the community, so they learn about lion dancing and our traditions,” said Daron Lee.
The Lee family roots run deep in Chinatown. Nicole Lee explained that she can trace her family roots back four generations in Chicago. She raises her kids in the same house that her grandparents owned when they were able to own property in Chicago.
“This community means everything to us, and I, serving as the alderman and being the first Chinese American to represent this community on the city council, is an incredible feeling,” said Nicole Lee.
The Lunar New Year allows for a celebration for all that is unique to Asian American cultures. It helps bring a community together, despite the collective loss and grief over past violence. It is the strength and perseverance of a community to continue to fight for awareness and prosperity despite all odds.
There are several ways to help the Chicago Chinatown community. Nicole Lee, Daron Lee and McKibben said the best way to help Chinatown is to support its businesses and events.
“Continue to come visit Chinatown. Patronize the businesses, support the businesses. There are many businesses and small mom-and-pop businesses that really need more support,” said McKibben.
Each person interviewed had a suggestion for their favorite Chinatown restaurant:
Grace Chan McKibben – Saint Anna Bakery
Nicole Lee – Seven Treasures Cantonese Restaurant
Daron Lee – Triple Crown Restaurant
Header Illustration by Magda Wilhelm