Austin’s Asian American Community Brings in the Lunar New Year with Style
Angela Buenrostro, Kirby Camerino, Jessica Duong and Caroline Khoury.
Colorful lions rose from clouds of smoke and dust while the sound of drums, cymbals and firecrackers reverberated through the grounds of Austin’s Chinatown Center on Saturday, Feb. 9.
More than 8,000 parents, children and general spectators gathered to watch martial arts, dance performances, eat authentic Asian cuisine and partake in various family-friendly activities during the center’s eighth annual Lunar New Year event, celebrating the year of the horse.
Since 2007, the Chinatown Center on North Lamar Boulevard has organized one of the largest Lunar New Year events in Austin, which attracts crowds of people and brings business to the center.
According to Yvonne Lim-Wilson, the marketing representative at the Asian American Resource Center, Asians are the fastest growing ethnic minority in Central Texas and currently, make up a little over six percent of Austin’s population — nearly 50,000 people.
“The Asian American population doubles every 10 years [in Texas] whereas in the general population it doubles every 20 years,” Lim-Wilson said. “I would say the biggest change has been the Asian American diversity in Austin.”
Austin’s Asian community began in 1875 when 20 Chinese immigrants came to establish businesses. Today, Austin is home to Cambodians, Indonesians, Vietnamese, and various other Southeast Asian ethnicities.
“We’ve got doctors, we’ve got lawyers, we’ve got politicians — a record number running this year,” Lim-Wilson said. “We also have immigrant refugee groups that are here in Austin as well and, of course, students.”
Erica Hanks, the marketing director of the Chinatown Center and emcee of the opening ceremony, organized the event to not only showcase typical Lunar New Year traditions but to also celebrate the diversity of Austin’s Asian American community.
“The Lunar New Year celebration is a way for Chinatown Center to give back to the community that supports our center,” Hanks said. “We don’t just involve our own tenants and business. We really involve the whole community.”
The celebration featured performances from the various dance groups, including Austin Dance India, Hawaiian Kona Isle, the Love of China, Texas Dragon and Lion Dance, and Summitt Dragon Dance, and special appearances from Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Mrs. Asia USA.
In addition, UT’s Chinese Student Association and Asian Pharmacy Student Association helped with the event’s decorations and community resource fair while the Austin Police and Fire Departments stood idly by to make sure firecracker hazards didn’t ruin the fun.
The Thien Hau/Linh Son Lion Dance Team ended the opening ceremony with a loud and energetic display of lion dancing, martial arts, and plenty of firecrackers.
“We’ve been doing [the Chinatown event] ever since they started, but for the last three years we have been on the main stage performing,” said Rick Ton, one of the team’s head instructors.
According to Ton, the Lion and Dragon dance originated thousands of years ago from Chinese folklore. The lion dance is meant to be a symbol of good luck in the New Year. The “fierce look” of the lion head accompanied with the raucous sounds of drum, cymbals, gong, and firecrackers are meant to scare away bad luck.
“It’s considered very good luck to have [a lion dance] in your business or your home,“ Ton said. “The lions are the ones getting rid of all the evil spirits and bring the good spirits into your home or business.”
Ton’s love of lion dancing began at age four when his parents took him to a Lunar New Year event. Today, he has passed down this tradition to his own children, who now participate in the team.
“We do this for our kids and to pass it on,” Ton said. “I’m sure when they’re my age, they’ll be taking my grandkids out and doing this.”
Parents sharing the Lunar New Year traditions with their children seemed to be an important part of why so many families came to the event.
Kimberly and Michael Dang have resided in Austin for 19 years and attend the New Year celebration each year to make sure their four children don’t forget their Vietnamese culture.
“My kids were born [in America] so I want them to know the traditions of Vietnamese New Years,” Kimberly Dang said. Lion dancing was Dang and her family’s favorite part of the celebration. Her children especially enjoyed “li xi”, which is “lucky money” given to children in red envelopes.
For other families, the event is a way to start a new tradition. This was the second year Jeremy Palafox attended the event with his wife and two children.
“My wife is Vietnamese so we look forward to this event every year, “ Palafox said. “Now that we have two young kids we think it’s really important for them to know their culture and experience it with the community here in Austin.”
“It’s fun just to see how many people come out and all the different races and ethnicities and diversity that you see here,” Palafox added.
With events such as the Lunar New Year celebration and the recent opening of the Asian American Resource Center, it’s obvious that the Asian American community has made a lasting impression on Austin’s culture and will continue to do so in the years to come.
“There is a need for our celebration because there is a need for Austin to celebrate the diversity of our city,” Hanks said. “What better way than a celebration to bring in the New Year and wish for prosperity for all.”