NEW YORK—As the dancing dragon teased a delighted crowd, they reached, trying to touch it as if it would give them good luck for the year ahead.
But it is the end of the Year of the Dragon, and time to celebrate the Year of the Snake.
Thousands marched in the Chinese New Year parade in Flushing, Queens, on Saturday, while others lined the streets to watch; entertained by costumes, music, and colorful dragons.
Sean Dou, 34, who hails from mainland China, said the parade connects all Asians together.
“It ties the Chinese people together; not just the Chinese, also the Koreans [and all Asians],” he said. Dou and his wife Vanessa Bai were watching the parade, enjoying the celebration of traditions.
The Chinese calendar differs from the Western (Gregorian) calendar, so the beginning of the Chinese New Year falls on a different day every year, with dates ranging between late January and late February. The Chinese zodiac is a rotating cycle of 12 years, with each year being represented by an animal, this year being the snake.
Celebrations of the Chinese New Year last for two weeks and end on the 15th day with the Lantern Festival (Feb. 24 this year).
About 1 million Asians, half of which are Chinese, live in New York, according to the 2010 Census. And around half of all Asians live in Queens.
Cathy Wang lives in Flushing and is part of the Divine Land Marching Band, which consists of practitioners of the spiritual practice Falun Gong, who wish to revive the values of traditional Chinese culture. Band members wear colorful attire reminiscent of the Tang Dynasty.
Wang said traditional Chinese culture is for everyone because it is tied to universal values. Stemming from the three religions of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, Chinese culture traditionally guided human beings by setting a high moral standard.
“It’s very important; I think traditional Chinese culture doesn’t just belong to Chinese, it belongs to all human beings,” Wang said.
However, over the years, the parade has been targeted by groups backed by the Chinese Communist Party, extending the Party’s persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China to the United States. In previous parades, members of the band have been attacked and heckled. Two years ago, a Chinese man was arrested after jumping the police barrier and destroying a banner carried by Falun Gong participants.
Wang sees the marching band’s success on Saturday as evidence that the persecution in China can’t carry over into America.
“Here in New York, in the U.S., we can practice our beliefs freely, and we are very welcomed in our society,” she said. “And every year we are invited to celebrate the Chinese New Year, and we hear overwhelming feedback that people love to see us.” The band is highly regarded because of their discipline and music, as well as their very beautiful uniforms, she said.
Jason Bergman, a photographer, snapped several photos of Wang in her traditional costume.
“Everyone’s in cool outfits,” he said. “Everyone’s pumped up to be here.”
People traveled to Flushing on Saturday to watch the parade from across New York, New Jersey, and Long Island.
Kevin Miller, 31, from Brooklyn and in administration at the City University of New York, came to Flushing for the first time to see the parade.
“It’s amazing that there are so many cultures in one place,” he said. “Only an hours ride to come here; it’s pretty awesome.”
Dayong Li, 48, of New Jersey, stood after the parade watching fireworks crackle. He said that’s part of the tradition, too; to drive away evil ghosts and other bad spirits, and to help bring in the new year.
The significance of celebrating Chinese culture, he said, is that there are so many Chinese people in New York, “who want to keep our culture, who want to keep the tradition.”
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