Dragon boats, Chinese calligraphers and bunny rabbits will descend on Valley Boulevard on Saturday for the San Gabriel Valley Lunar New Year Festival. While 25,000 people are expected to be celebrating in Alhambra, behind the scenes a petite, extremely energetic Chinese woman will be bustling around making sure it all runs smoothly.
“It was quite by accident that I became an event organizer,” said Pinki Chen, owner of K&K Communications. "It started 19 years ago, when the former council member and mayor, Paul Talbot, [and now the city manager of Monterey Park] realized the Asian population had increased and that there was a need — and opportunity — to showcase the culture.” Six years later Chen was tapped to organize the event and ever since has been the mastermind and key to success behind the festival. The Alhambra Youth Feed spoke with Chen as she took a rare pause before the final preparation push.
What are some of the highlights and traditional elements for the Alhambra Lunar New Year festival this year?
We have a calligrapher at Chase Bank so people can write the New Years greetings. Red paper. It symbolizes luck, good health, prosperity. People put it on the door or window. Children can do the brush pen or ink to write the calligraphy. And after they’re done they’ll receive a red envelope carrying money.
How much money?
$1. For Christmas you give presents to the little ones in your family. In China they give the red envelope with money.
What about new things this year?
We always center around the coming zodiac which this year is the rabbit. There will be bunnies and rabbits walking around. There will also be two real dragon boats on Valley Boulevard. People can get into the dragon boats and play with the paddles.
We have heard there isn't going to be a parade, how come?
Just the economy – and we felt that it's not necessary to have a parade.
You go to China often. When you tell people there that you organize a Lunar New Year festival, what do they say?
They’re always amazed. They never realize the large number of overseas Chinese population in the world, not just in the US, but in Africa, England all over the world. I think they take comfort that after half a century abroad people still celebrate the Chinese holidays.
How's the parade different here than in China?
I think times have changed in China. In the old days in the agricultural society people would only buy new clothes, new shoes, a few times a year. I remember when I was younger people didn't have so many things, so they would clean the house for two weeks and buy new clothes for the children. But now people are buying clothes all the time.
Everyone is in transit for the holiday in China. It's just like Thanksgiving and Christmas here. Heading home is always a big deal. In China they go to the big city to work. Only two three times they have enough holidays to go home. Sometimes they don’t even see their children, their spouse. That’s a very prescious time for them to go. For us here, we just get together and have a meal at home or go to a restaurant. Here we don’t have the transportation problem, maybe just some traffic.
What's the process of setting up for the parade?
We close the street the night before at around 9:30 pm. The contractors will work overnight to set it up. But I started really working on it in August, September, and things get heavier in October.
We know there are a lot of superstitions around Chinese New Year, like not cutting your hair and cleaning like crazy. What are some others?
You're not supposed to work because then you'll spend the whole year working.
How do you deal with that?
I work. That's why I'm working all year!
The Lunar New Year Festival will be Saturday on Valley Boulevard between Garfield and Almansor. The festival is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free. More information is available at www.lunarnewyearparade.com.