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.