Lunar New Year Kicks Off in Flushing

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Yesterday marked the start of Lunar New Year for many in the city’s Asian-American communities. Reporter Amanda Aronczyk visited a celebration this past weekend at the Queens Library in Flushing.

Calligrapher ambi: Yeah! Everybody’s happy! Ambi of people having their name written with lucky blessings

NARR: It’s been a busy morning for David Yuan, writing out New Year’s blessings on long sheets of paper.

David Yuan: For 2 hours, I never stop, I haven’t gone to the bathroom yet.

NARR: The blessings are one of the many traditions of Lunar New Year. It’s now Year of the Rat, but there are some new year’s wishes that transcend the zodiac.

David Yuan: Healthy, happy and full of love, we don’t need war, I’m sorry. Younshin Kim: Happiness in the family, no matter what, and peace to everybody.

NARR: That’s Younshin Kim, assistant coordinator of the New Americans Program for Queens Library, saying happy New Year in Korean. Today, the Flushing branch is striving to represent the local Asian-American communities by organizing a day of dance, music, calligraphy, even dumpling making.

Younshin Kim: We have cookbooks, so why not cooking programs?

NARR: As the largest and busiest branch library in New York state, serving some 5000 people a day in dozens of languages, the staff clearly see their role as more than just book lenders.

Younshin Kim: The reason we’re presenting these programs, targeting immigrant communities groups is to bring them into the library, and introduce library services, to learn about how to speak English. Also retaining their culture and all sorts of things.

NARR: It’s a big mandate, promoting assimilation and cultural heritage at the same time. The days’ events moved into the library auditorium with Korean music and dance up next. Lawrence, a lawyer who splits his time between Flushing and Shanghai, stayed for the first half. For him, the library can’t make up for his real problem with this holiday. (MUSIC IN BACKGROUND)

Lawrence: I’ve been here for several years, we’ve never celebrated on exact day, you know, on that day you don’t take the day off. Amanda: You don’t want to take the day off from work for it? Lawyer: No, no, not that we don’t want to but we have to work, or we have to study.

NARR: Officially this isn’t a day off, but that hasn’t always stopped Wesley Yu, a Rutgers student from New Jersey...

Wesley Yu: I’ve done it before, I mean getting off school with a note from my parents, you know "Chinese New Year" but most of the time I just go to school. Chinese New Year’s just a dinner, so it’s after school anyways.

NARR: In the absence of things that usually make a holiday- like having family close by, taking time off, passing on traditions,.. the library has stepped in. It’s become part community center, part performance space, a language school, dumpling house... and for Tin Jow and her two young kids, it’s not a place to learn English, but a place to impart her Chinese culture and language.

Amanda: Do you bring them to the library a lot? Mom: Usually we bring them on weekends. She’s in school, he’s in daycare center, so usually weekends we come. This library is good they have a lot of Chinese materials, like the videos and the books, so that’s good.

NARR: Today they’d lined up for the “Dances from China” performance that promised to include live musicians, Tibetan Dance, and a traditional Chinese lion dance. They’d been waiting awhile and the line was long,.. Shawni and Danielle were bored.

Mom: Say happy new year in Chinese. Kid: What? Mom: Say happy new year in Chinese? Kid: No way. I forget. Mom says it, then: Don’t eat your finger, please.

NARR: Across the lobby, Wesley Yu pondered what he’d pass on to his own kids, if he decides to have any.

Wesley Yu: I’d want them to learn our language, because Chinese will be pretty useful. As for traditions, that’s their own choice, if they’re interested, I’ll give them the opportunity to see what Chinese culture is like, where my parents came from, their roots came from. But as for where they want to associate themselves with, that’s up to them. That’s the same choice my parents gave me. That’s kinda like the advantage we have in America, so.

NARR: For WNYC, I’m Amanda Aronczyk.

Mom tries again: Say happy new year in Chinese? Girl says it. Mom: Good!