Springfield celebrates Chinese culture with Lunar New Year gala

SPRINGFIELD — With the audience dressed in red for good luck, the region’s Chinese community ushered in the Year of the Dragon with a celebration of traditional music, dancing and martial arts performances on Saturday.

The Lunar New Year Gala, held on the first day of the Chinese New Year, also offered participants a wide variety of traditional foods provided by local restaurant owners and honored a number of people in the Chinese community and those in the larger community who have helped to promote the Asian culture.

“Doing this is to let the rest of society now about our unique traditions,” Haian Lin, an attorney from Longmeadow and Chinese immigrant who helped organize the celebration. “We try to use the New Year’s celebration to promote cultural exchange.”

It also helps families teach children who were born in the U.S. to learn more about their own heritage, he said.

This is the second year Western Massachusetts members of the American Chinese United Association, which is based in Boston, have held the celebration. The first year was a success, the second year was bigger, and Lin said he hopes to continue the event.

Springfield has a long-standing ties with China. In the 1840s, the first Chinese students that studied in America were high school students who came to Springfield to attend what is now Wilbraham and Monson Academy, he said.

Many others followed mainly to attend colleges across the state. Lin and his wife, Dr. Shan Li, a physician at Baystate Health, each ended up at Massachusetts colleges and decided to stay.

“The New Year means a great deal, not just for the Chinese, but for many cultures: Vietnamese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean and a lot of others,” he said, adding that the celebration also brought out members of those communities who live in the area.

Lin and Emma Chen-Banas served as the main organizers, but dozens of people and organizations came together to make the event happen. Lin specifically thanked John Doleva, the president of the Basketball Hall of Fame, for his help in ensuring the event was a success.

As part of the celebration, the Angel Dance Company of Boston, an award-winning school that teaches traditional Chinese dance, brought multiple performers of all ages to entertain the audience. Closer to home, the Chinese Kung Fu Wushu Academy, of Chicopee, also offered several martial arts demonstrations.

The dance company demonstrated some of the unique dances traditional to China, including one where dancers balanced a stack of three ceramic bowls on their heads while performing.

“It is Chinese New Year, and we are proud to show off the Chinese culture,” Ke Ke, founder of Angel Dance, explaining why her troupe was willing to travel across the state to perform.

The event was attended by multiple city and state representatives. Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and state Rep. Anthony Puppolo each read proclamations from the city and Legislature, wishing all “peace, prosperity and happiness” in the new year.

In turn, the American Chinese United Association honored Sarno for outstanding leadership, and Puppolo for his leadership on diversity, equity and inclusion. City Councilor Kateri Walsh received the advocacy award, recognizing an individual who has supported the Chinese community.

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