Chinese New Year Parade draws thousands of spectators

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Lions jumped, dragons danced, and bands marched in Chinatown this past weekend as thousands of people crowded the streets to watch what has been named one of the world’s top ten parades by the International Festivals and Events Association.

San Francisco’s Chinese New Year celebrations culminated this past weekend with the grand finale Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade. The parade has been a city tradition since the 1860s, gathering more than 1 million attendants last year it claims to be the biggest Chinese New Year Parade of its kind outside Asia.

“San Francisco is a multicultural city,” SF State alumna and Chinese Chamber of Commerce board member Esther Li said. “This is just one of the cultural events for people who live in San Francisco. They are interested, they want to see the culture.”

The parade got its start after a large number of Chinese immigrants settled in San Francisco during the Gold Rush. Since then, a variety of city groups have participated in the parade including high school marching bands and other Asian cultures.

This year’s spectacle featured elaborate floats, high school marching bands, martial art groups, stilt walkers, the 201 feet long Golden Dragon, lion dancers, Chinese acrobatics, the newly crowned Miss Chinatown USA, and more than 600,000 fireworks.

Leah Li, originally from Mercer Island, Wash., was crowned Miss Chinatown USA this year. For her, the Chinese New Year celebrations have helped her become more adept with her culture.

“The Chinatown in San Francisco is unlike any other in the world,” Li said. “It’s really helped us (contestants) become more aware of our heritage.”

The Miss Chinatown USA Pageant, a component of San Francisco’s Chinese New Year celebrations since 1953, requires the contestants to reconnect with their heritage and learn about their family associations, as well as demonstrate and celebrate their culture.

For some parade goers, such as Jimmy Martinez, a San Francisco resident and captain for the bay cruise and ferry service, Blue & Gold Fleet, the Chinese New Year Parade represents a common ground for people of all different cultures to come together and have a good time. He has attended the parade every year since his move to San Francisco from Lake Tahoe 15 years ago.

“It’s great!” Martinez said.  “It’s good to see all the cultures get together to have a good time!”

The parade ended soon after 8 p.m., but the festivities continued subtlety as people took to the lantern-lit streets of Chinatown for a stroll, where firecrackers popped throughout the night.

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