Asian Emerson students celebrate upcoming Lunar New Year

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Summer 2021 mural addition in Chinatown. Courtesy of Abby Lee.

By Hannah Nguyen, Deputy Express News Editor

For many Asian Emersonians, the approaching Lunar New Year is a chance to embrace their cultural identities in a predominantly white environment.

“Lunar New Year is such a big part of my life,” said senior journalism major Eliza Fu. “It’s a time that I most look forward to, [It’s a time where] I get to see all my family from all around the country (China), the ones I don’t usually see.”

Despite its cultural significance among Asian American populations, the holiday is not recognized as a federal holiday in the United States—meaning that Asian students at Emerson are not afforded a day off. Nevertheless, students like Fu are taking it upon themselves to celebrate the holiday, even if it means not attending class.

“I feel that Lunar New Year needs more recognition,” Fu said. “Most professors are pretty nice about it, but they don’t really understand the concept of it. It’s hard when you have to explain it to them, because [they could just] Google it. It needs more recognition on campus because it’s not like [only] two people on campus are celebrating it. I’m sure there’s a good amount of people who do want to celebrate Lunar New Year.”

In previous years, Fu and her friends celebrated Lunar New Year by making traditional and family-style Sichuan dishes in the kitchen of their 2 Boylston Place residence hall.

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“[In previous years, I’ve taken] the time to have dinner with my friend,” Fu said. “Before COVID, we used to make Lunar New Year dinner together in the kitchen. We just eat dinner because classes [are] still going on, and I can’t take much time off.” 

Other students go to Chinatown to eat dim sum, a traditional Chinese meal made up of small dishes typically served on carts. Lunar New Year has also been an opportunity for many Emerson students to introduce their culture to non-Asians. Sophomore theatre and performance major Qiyue Zhang helped introduce her non-Asian friends to dim sum one year.

“The dinner is important for Asians, so even if we don’t celebrate like we did when I was at home, I feel like eating with friends would be a good way to celebrate it,” Zhang said. “This is an opportunity to introduce a lot of Asian dishes that [non-Asian] people might be skeptical of. It’s always fun to introduce people to new cultures and to talk about our traditions.” 

Lunar New Year has also provided a way for Asian students of different backgrounds to connect.  

“[My non-Chinese friends] also celebrate Lunar New Year, but they eat different foods,” Zhang said. “[I have friends] who are Korean, so they [celebrate it differently than me]. They have their own special dishes that they eat. It’s just really fun to talk to friends about it.”

Rosamond Chung, a sophomore journalism major, is celebrating Lunar New Year for the first time on campus, after spending her freshman year online in Hong Kong. When she arrived at Emerson, a predominantly white institution (PWI), for the first time, she said it was important for her to make friends who shared the same culture as her.

“I’m not used to not having everyone around me celebrating holidays that I’m very used to celebrating during every school year back in Hong Kong,” Chung said. “Chinese New Year is about being with friends and family. It’s about the culture and celebrating the start of a new year, but it’s also about getting to do that with your friends.” 

Due to the Omicron variant, many students are refraining from large gatherings to prevent spreading COVID.

“I was going to have a Lunar New Year’s dinner with my friend at her place in Malden because we all live off-campus, but it just doesn’t really seem like something we still want to do,” Fu said. “I’m mostly going to spend my time in my room ordering takeout and having a little celebration. I’ll call my family and just call it a day.” 

Businesses in Chinatown have been negatively impacted by the pandemic and the anti-Asian sentiment within the past year. Chung plans to go to Chinatown to get dinner with her friends to support local businesses, especially during the special holiday.

“My friends and I [may get] hotpot to celebrate and are probably going to the ASIA meeting,” Chung said. “I’ll probably call my family and wish them ‘Happy Chinese New Year.’ 

Cultural organizations like Emerson’s Asian Students In Alliance also participate in the celebration of Lunar New Year, hosting a decorating session in the lobby of Piano Row. Emerson’s Office of International Student Affairs has also held special events in recent years.

Chung mentioned how many Asian people are taught early on they can’t assert their identities.

“When I came to Emerson, I realized that I can’t do that,” Chung said. “Asians make up a pretty decent-sized group at Emerson, but we’re definitely the most low-key group here. You need to take up that space.”

For students of color attending predominantly white institutions like Emerson, it can be difficult for them to preserve their culture when many students around them don’t come from the same backgrounds. 

“As an international student, it’s been even more difficult transitioning to a PWI just because so much of my culture is already whitewashed since I went to an [American] international school,” Chung said. “Coming to a PWI means I have to hold on to that culture so hard—because if I lose it, I lose it. There’s no one around me to force me to talk in my native tongue or eat my native food. That’s why celebrating holidays is really important.” 

At home, Chung’s family didn’t make Lunar New Year a huge celebration; however, since coming to Emerson, she’s been making it a priority to celebrate and practice Chinese culture to keep it alive—especially since she may not return to Hong Kong this summer.

“Now that I’m gone, I realize I really miss [celebrating Lunar New Year] just because of how lively it was [back home],” she said. “It’s something that I want to bring to the community, but that’s going to be too hard to do as an individual, it has to be a group effort.”