Vibrant melodies echoed throughout Jack Adams Hall, as Shura Taylor snapped strings of a traditional Chinese instrument, the guzheng, at the SF State Chinese Flagship Program Chinese New Year celebration on Friday.
An estimated 170 people filled the room with both applause and mixed feelings about the way the holiday is now celebrated in San Francisco.
Zhixin Chen, a 22-year-old hospitality major, emigrated from China with her family when she was about 9 years old. She argued that the Chinese New Year parade in the Bay Area has been Americanized and misrepresents Chinese culture.
“I don’t really go to the Chinese New Year Parade. It’s very different from what Chinese New Year actually is,” Chen said. “I think it will lead local Americans and tourists to misinterpret Chinese culture and what Chinese New Year is about.”
The Chinese Flagship Program, which started in 2009, gives students the opportunity to learn Chinese language and culture at SF State.
The program also encourages students to study abroad to pursue careers in China or in other Chinese-speaking countries.
Taylor, the outreach coordinator of the program, was born in Macao, a Special Administrative Region of China, and later moved to the United States- her father’s home country. She used to celebrate Chinese New Year as a child, however, that changed after moving to the U.S.
“When we were in Macao, we celebrated every year. It was a big deal,” Taylor said. “Now I haven’t celebrated it in the past 10 years so this is actually really fun.”
The event introduced different features of Chinese culture to entertain guests and to bring the community together. Traditional dishes were set on a long table that included steamed pork, napa cabbage dumplings, pan fried pot stickers, Shanghai-style pan fried pork buns, vegetarian fried rice and dry-braised string beans.
“This is like a reminder of their culture and celebration of their tradition that has been in China for over 2000 years,” Taylor said.
The hall was decorated with symbolic ornaments for a new year to bring joviality. One upside down Chinese letter displayed on a wall of the venue represented wishes and happiness. Another emblematic decoration included half-grown flower bulbs placed on round tables to encourage prosperity
Attendees wrote their wishes on pieces of paper and hung them on a wishing tree of peach blossoms. Hand-crafted flower-shaped paper cutouts were hung on walls and windows as symbols of good luck for the new year.
Wei Dou, an international graduate student from China, said the decorations at Jack Adams hall made her feel as if she were celebrating the Chinese New Year in China.
Mia Segura, the program coordinator of the Chinese Flagship Program, has been working for the program for nearly five years. Segura, having studied abroad in Taiwan where Chinese New Year is celebrated, explained that the event would not be a typical Chinese New Year celebration since it attempts to help students learn about Chinese language and culture by performing traditional music.
“This is very American, because having celebrated Chinese New Year with Chinese family in China, I would say typically Chinese New Year is about spending time with your family and spending time with your loved one,” Segura said.
Dou has been at SF State for over a year and now lives with others who are also from China.
“I just had Chinese New Year dinner with my roommates and housemates,” Dou said. “Chinese New Year is about spending time with family and getting together, so it makes me miss my family back in China.”
The celebration of the Chinese New Year is an opportunity for many Asian-Americans to maintain cultural identity because the holiday is observed in different Asian countries.
Joshua Nghiem, a Chinese Flagship student, said he and his Vietnamese-American family also celebrate Chinese New Year.
“We celebrate Chinese New Year every year,” Nghiem said. “I do things like dancing, giving red envelopes. Basically, everything that Chinese people do, Vietnamese people do.”
Lynn Liu, a freshman sociology major, attended the event with her friends at SF State for the first time this year. Liu celebrates each year with her Chinese-American family.
“We have a big family dinner and exchange red envelopes but that’s it,” Liu said. “For me, it means just celebrating my culture and reconnecting with my family.”