Lunar new year nomenclature and the multicultural metropolis

Chinese New Year decorations in Dublin, Ireland. Photo: William Murphy (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Chinese New Year decorations in Dublin, Ireland. Photo: William Murphy (Flickr/Creative Commons)

On Sunday I stopped by the Monterey Park Lunar New Year Festival with my family. For two days, the organizers blocked off several blocks of bustling Garvey Avenue to make room for street food vendors, trinket sellers, and corporate sponsors giving away free goodies. While most of the vendors were speaking Mandarin or Cantonese, there were a few booths from non-Sinophone cultures: an Indomie booth, a booth selling dry pho noodles, and a booth promoting tolerance of Islam (with one of the few banners that was in English only).

The Chinese are not the only ethnic group that celebrates new year according to the Chinese lunar calendar. Calling this a “lunar new year” festival rather than a “Chinese new year” festival is a deliberately inclusive choice. This event draws in visitors from across Southern California, not just heavily Chinese Monterey Park, and even if the event is sponsored by a Chinese newspaper and most of the vendors are Chinese, they were expecting people from many different ethnic groups.

In Sydney, food blogger and former politician Thang Ngo posted an open letter to the city’s Lord Mayor asking why that city continues to have a “Chinese new year” festival:

The City of Sydney’s Chinese New Year Festival, as a name, is divisive because it excludes.  Last year, at the official launch, speaker after speaker, encouraged us to celebrate Chinese New Year.  Coming from a Vietnamese background, I was appalled and offended. Despite their speeches, I didn’t feel a part of the festival. [...]

At a greater Sydney geographical level, again, while Chinese speakers out-number other language groups, Vietnamese and Korean speakers still comprise a significant part of the population.  You are in the minority when it comes to the Greater Sydney area – the majority of other Councils have elected to name their community celebrations Lunar New Year.

Soon afterwards, the Lord Mayor responded on Twitter:

In related news, a Vietnamese American LGBT group is protesting its exclusion from the Tet parade in Southern California’s Little Saigon.

  1. Chinese were among the first non-European migrants to come to Australia in large numbers in the 1800s with many settling in Sydney around the Haymarket area which later became known Chinatown.

    While I understand that @ThangNgo feel excluded from the City of Sydney’s Chinese New Year celebrations being from a Vietnamese background, Sydney’s Chinese New Year is not exclusively for the Chinese community. The Chinese community have always welcome non Chinese participation in the City of Sydney’s Chinese New Year celebrations. To say that Chinese New Year celebration excludes non Chinese is totally incorrect. Australians from all ethnic background have participated in City of Sydney’s Chinese New Year since its official inception 17 years ago and even prior to then in the 1980s.

    Retaining the name Chinese New Year is simply honoring and acknowledging the contribution of the early Chinese migrants to Australia and to Sydney in particular.

    I personally would have no objections if the Lunar New Year celebration in the Cabramatta be name Vietnamese New Year in recognition of the large Vietnamese community there or Korean New Year in Eastwood in recognition of the Korean community there.

    Whatever it is called Lunar/Chinese/Vietnamese/Korean New Year, it is a celebration for all Australians regardless of race, colour or religion. No one should feel excluded or offended by a name.

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