By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
On Saturday, Montclairians from all walks of life will come together for the township’s largest Lunar New Year celebration yet.
The event is organized by AAPI Montclair – a grassroots organization of Asian American and Pacific Islander residents formed last year – in partnership with the Montclair Art Museum, Montclair Center Business Improvement District, BPD Holdings and other supporters. It will be at the museum parking lot, 3 South Mountain Ave., from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.
This is the same month that the Montclair School Board first agreed to make Lunar New Year a district holiday – give students in future years whenever the holiday falls on a weekday.
And the event builds on the recognition of the holiday encouraged by Montclair School District World Languages and ESL Supervisor Vicky Chang, who had taught Mandarin for 14 years at Nishuane Elementary School. Yang celebrated the Lunar New Year in her classrooms and later helped organize holiday-marking events at the Montclair Public Library.
The Lunar New Year is celebrated in several Asian countries and beyond at the start of the Chinese lunisolar calendar – February 1 this year – with festivities lasting 16 days. It is the year of the tiger.
Families come together to celebrate a new beginning and eat traditional dishes. In one custom, red envelopes or pouches with gold lettering are exchanged to wish good luck to loved ones. Firecrackers are lit to scare away evil spirits.
“I think for most Asian cultures, the color red signifies happiness. Gold stands for fortune and prosperity, which is a major component of that,” said Winnie Wu, one of the co-chairs of the ‘event.
Food also has symbolic meaning in Chinese tradition, Wu said. For example, the word fish in Chinese sounds like the word abundance. Dumplings are eaten because they represent nuggets of gold that once served as currency. Noodles are synonymous with longevity.
“And the spring rolls, when you fry them, they look like gold bars. That’s why we eat it,” Wu said. “Everything is just a symbol of joy, celebration and family.”
Flowers are also common when celebrating New Year’s dinner, especially in Vietnamese culture, said Lilly Sei, another co-chair of the event. She said in Vietnamese custom, when flowers bloom, it means wealth will come.
“People try to bring the flowers to a certain place and then push them to bloom on New Year’s Eve,” Sei said.
Chang began celebrating the Lunar New Year in his classrooms in 2008, encouraging his students to wear red and bright colors and organizing activities such as Chinese brush paintings.
She said the students knew that “I’m not just learning a language, I’m learning the culture.”
Chang also connected students with others at Seton Hall who were learning Mandarin. And eventually the activities shifted to the library – for example, with craft, paper-cutting and calligraphy stalls.
“I used authentic resources. I invited people from the community to introduce and celebrate the festival,” Chang said. “I would ask the students to have a short chat with real Chinese people.”
Linda Kow, one of the founding members of AAPI Montclair, said Chang’s early celebrations had an impact on her and her family.
“My kids still remember those programs,” she says. “It was truly such a celebration of joy to see so many people come out and volunteer their time.”
Julie Kim, co-founder of AAPI Montclair, said the organization has been planning Saturday’s event since November. With the weather issues and the recent coronavirus outbreak linked to the omicron variant, Kim said there was talk of canceling. But Amber Reed, president of AAPI Montclair, convinced organizers that a celebration of joy and community was needed more than ever.
There will be activities for children and shows for all participants. Heated tents will keep performers, spectators and vendors warm.
“There will be delicious food. There will be plenty of nice things to buy. We have a fantastic selection of Asian products that we have sourced from various Asian markets. So there will be snacks,” Wu said. “There will be pottery. It will be fantastic.
The event will also have Dalgona, a popular Korean street food treat highlighted by the Netflix series “Squid Games.”
The event will begin with a lion dance, a traditional part of the Lunar New Year celebration meant to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck.
Representative Andy Kim (D-03) will be the guest of honor and will speak at 12:45 p.m.
A martial arts presentation will be led by Wu Shu Kung Fu Fitness of Livingston. The school district’s Mandarin program will perform. Korean drummers and fan dancers will also perform.
A master paper cutter will give demonstrations at Leir Hall, inside the museum.
“It’s a dying profession. He’s very old and very skilled,” Wu said. “And basically you say to him, ‘I want a dragon,’ and he takes a piece of paper and scissors and cuts you a dragon in about 30 seconds. It’s incredible.”
The Junior Bees, a Filipino junior dance troupe from The Hive Dance Studio at Rahway, will close the event.
Montclair State University professors with degrees in calligraphy will volunteer their time and lead a calligraphy workshop inside the museum.
And of course, Kim said, “you can’t have an Asian party without lots of food.” Cindy Washington, another co-chair of the event, said there will be a Korean barbecue from Kimchi Smoke in Westwood and mochi donuts from Mochinut’s location in Montclair. There will be hot and cold bubble tea from Kung Fu Tea.
“And most of us who grew up near NYC Chinatown are familiar with the street food bubble waffle, so we’re very happy to have that,” Washington said.
Other Montclair vendors will also be part of the event. Dolce Federica will offer special themed chocolates. Artist Tricia Ramada will be making special handmade dolls for Lunar New Year. Pinch of Clay will have special ceramics. East Side Mags will feature comics by Asian authors.
” Everybody talks about it. They’re all excited to come, and it filled my heart,” Washington said. “Because it’s for our kids, it’s for our community to come together and we share with them.”
Tickets are $5 and can be purchased online through the Montclair AAPI website at aapimontclair.org. Admission is free for members of the Montclair Art Museum. Limited fee waivers will be available on the day of the event for those unable to pay. Masks will be mandatory. Proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test performed within three days will be required for anyone aged 5 or over.
A portion of the proceeds from the event will be donated to Kaija Jung Anderson Memorial Scholarshipwhich honors the life of a second grade girl from Montclair.
Editor’s Note: Amber Reed, mentioned in the article above, is married to Justin Jamail, a member of the Montclair Local’s board of directors.