Why Chinese New Year is important to me as an Asian-American

Growing up in California, there was no shortage of culture to expose myself to. I grew up listening to ska music and loving tacos.  I felt like I was just a typical Californian-kid, but at the same time I was very aware that I was both Asian and American.  

On my father’s side, our family has lived in America since the late 1800s, living, for the most part, in northern California ever since.  On my mother’s side, my grandfather came to America in the early-mid 1900s, fought in World War II for America, then my grandmother and uncle came over to join him.  My mother’s family lived in Chicago, Mississippi, then eventually set roots in California where my mother grew up and fell in love with my dad.  I felt like I had the best of both worlds.  A family that was deeply rooted in both American and Chinese culture.  

For as long as my family has lived in America, I’m thankful I still grew up with a lot of Chinese tradition. To this day, I still can’t set a tea pot down if it’s pointing at someone (bad luck) or stick a pair of chopsticks in a bowl of rice (more bad luck).  While my parents and grandparents weren’t remotely superstitious, they instilled in me an appreciation of Chinese culture and traditions.  I have fond memories of Chinese holidays, learning about my heritage and celebrating in traditional ways.

I remember Chinese New Year the most of the holidays. Eating that scaring looking dish that looks like hair but tastes delicious (Jai) and stuffing my mouth with sweets like dried coconut strips covered in sugar, Chinese mochi (Tei), and those fried pastry looking things with sugar and nuts inside. I loved that everyone gave everyone else bags of oranges.  And, let’s be honest, I loved getting red envelopes, too.  

While I am American, it’s really important to me to hold on to my Chinese culture. Chinese New Year always reminded me of the importance of strong family bonds and my connection to my Chinese heritage, and that’s why I loved it so much.  I think it's incredible that after over a century in America, my family is still in touch with their Chinese culture.  If you talk to most families who've lived in America for a long time, you'll notice that the longer their family has been in America the further they are from their original culture. I'm thankful that's not the case with my family. 

Since marrying Lance and moving to Alabama, it’s become even more important to me to stay in touch with my Chinese roots. I'm not sure if or when Lance and I will ever move back to California or a diverse area, so I know it will become harder over the years to preserve my Chinese culture.  I don't want to ever lose that connection to either of my backgrounds.  When Lance and I have children, they’ll have an even harder time being a mix of Chinese and White.  For them I want to hold on to as much Chinese culture as possible so they will always know where they come from. So you can bet, even though I don’t know any Chinese people here, I’m celebrating in my own way (i.e. watching dragon & lion dances on youtube and hopefully acquiring some oranges at some point to feast on.) 

Happy Chinese New Year! Sun Nin Fai Lok! Gung Hay Faat Choy! 


Chinatown, New York. April 19, 2011 | Canon 5d markii