NEW YORK—On a crisp Saturday in Queens, crowds flocked to one of the biggest Chinese and East Asian parades in the city. The Flushing Lunar New Year Parade has grown over time and now rivals in size the parade in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
Assemblyman Ron Kim, who represents parts of Flushing, said that the annual parade is a great event for all Asian communities.
“Every year it gets better and bigger,” he said.
Kim recently co-sponsored a bill that would make the Lunar New Year a school holiday. The bill passed in the state Assembly on Feb. 3.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who also walked in the parade, supports making Lunar New Year a school holiday in New York City.
“The Chinese community as well as Korean community are both thriving communities in the city that will be very, very important to our future,” de Blasio said. “And if you look around this neighborhood, you see such great growth. This is what New York City’s future will be about.”
The Lunar New Year is celebrated by many East Asian nationalities including Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Mongolian, Tibetan, Cambodian, and others.
Local resident Fernando Nidouraux, who has lived in Flushing for almost four decades, watched the neighborhood grow immensely over the years.
“You don’t have to go to Manhattan to enjoy the [Asian] culture, it’s right here,” Nidouraux said, calling the parade beautiful. “It’s unbelievable.”
Most of the parade’s participants were Asian, but some non-Asians performed as well to celebrate their ties to the culture. Jacob Zocco has performed the dragon dance as part of the Falun Dafa procession for several years. He and a team of eight others, only two of whom are Asian, carried a bright, shiny, and lifelike dragon on tall poles, swooping toward the crowd to the delight of children and adults alike.
Though Zocco is not Asian, he formed a close tie to the Chinese culture because he practices Falun Dafa, an exercise and meditation practice based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
“We did the dragon dance to contribute to traditional Chinese celebration and bring happiness to the local community,” Zocco said. “We made many people smile!”
Kent Konkol, who also performed the dragon dance, said that he participates every year to help represent the Falun Dafa practice to the Chinese community. The practice has been persecuted in China since 1999, with the Chinese Communist Party going to great lengths to slander Falun Dafa in China and abroad.
“Because of the false propaganda from the Chinese Communist Party, I feel that Falun Dafa may not be correctly understood by some Chinese people, and by participating in the dragon dance I could help support the community by taking part in the parade and celebrating the Chinese New Year with them,” Konkol said. “I really enjoy performing the dragon dance, and the best part of it is the happy look on people’s faces when the dragon passes by and the smiles and looks of wonder on the children’s faces.”
Council member Mark Weprin, who leads District 23 in northeastern Queens, has been coming to the parade for many years. Weprin highlighted that the Queens community is the most ethnically diverse in the city. He sported a red tie, a popular color associated with the Lunar New Year celebration.
“Lunar New Year is an important date on the Asian calendar,” he said. He said that it’s a fun parade that’s “easy for all of us to embrace.”
Parade participants comprised a diverse group of mainstream Asian media companies, health care centers, clubs, and organizations.
One of the parade participants, Lawrence Lin, who walked with the North Shore-LIJ Health System ambulance truck, said the parade is an important way for organizations to display themselves and get recognized in the Asian community. The ambulance was covered in red and gold stickers and lanterns in keeping with the celebrations.
“The Asian calendar doesn’t have many holidays throughout the year, so it’s very important they come out into the community,” Lin said. He handed out red envelopes, a symbol of good luck in Chinese culture and a New Year tradition.
Thousands of Chinese spectators, from young parents with newborns to the elderly in wheelchairs, crowded around the fenced barricades taking pictures and cheering.
The parade was also a point of pride for some who recently came from mainland China like Yan Lin who came just four years ago to teach Chinese. She teared up looking at the parade passing by.
“When I see this,” she said. “I feel connected.”
Additional reporting by Ivan Pentchoukov