With Chinese yo-yo’s in hand, lion costumes secured, and dance routines memorized, performers took the stage of Chenery Auditorium in Kalamazoo, Michigan on Saturday, February 14, 2015 to celebrate Chinese New Year. The annual Chinese New Year celebration is hosted by the Chinese Association of Greater Kalamazoo.
People from all over Southwest Michigan gathered on a frigid Valentine’s Day evening to enjoy their friends, family’s , and loved ones perform. Kee Tasi, Vice-President of the CAGK helped to organize this year’s performance.
“Every year we put out a big event like this, in the new year, it’s called Chinese New Year, and this year we’re celebrating the Year of the Sheep, or the Ram,” said Kee.“We do this to benefit the community, for people’s awareness that there’s an Asian culture in Kalamazoo and for the students that are studying Chinese to be able to share their gifts and talents, and what they’ve learned in the Chinese class.”
DeLin Shen, the Association’s President said the two main contributors to the event this year were two local schools: the Kalamazoo Chinese School, and the Modern Chinese School of Kalamazoo. But that’s not always the case.
“Sometimes actually not only the Chinese groups come to perform. Two years ago we had an Indian dance group perform Indian dancing,” said Shen. “We’re look at most of the people we know well so we try to judge their quality before we have the invitation send outs. So, there’s a main staple like lion dancing, and dragon dancing. Also the drum and the yoyo, these have become really popular program, so every year we try to keep those programs intact.”
This year the organization’s sister group from the Benton Harbor and St. Joseph area accompanied the organization’s traditional acts.
“We have a total of 15, and our traditional performances are usually the dragon dance and the lion dance, and those are kind of like the bookends of our performance,” said Kee. “Sometimes we invite outsiders to come, but mainly we have a church that’s very active. The Chinese Christian Church, in Kalamazoo, and they usually have one or two programs.
Coordinator of the Association, Ya Liu said that the board members have two main characteristics they look for when deciding who will perform. “We just want to keep certain diversity of the performance and a good quality of the performance.”
Kee, Shen, and Liu have not always celebrated Chinese New Year in Kalamazoo. All three have lived in China as well as throughout the world. Shen says that he celebrated Chinese New Year not only in China and the United States, but also Canada, and that no two celebrations are identical.
“Even in China the different places have a different way and style to celebrate. I’ve lived in South East part of China Han Jiu and north part of China Beijing and I’ve lived in Toronto for a couple of years and Rochester New York for a couple of years and Kalamazoo for three and a half years. In Toronto or in Rochester New York there’s lots of groups that celebrate Chinese New Year,” said Shen. “So, different groups do different things and more diverse or decentralized. Kalamazoo Michigan, because we’re a small city and somehow that makes people knit together. So every year’s performance is much more organized instead of different pockets of a the group doing the celebration.”
Kee said Kalamazoo has an organized venue that allows the community to celebrate their culture. “Being in Kalamazoo this is actually the first time I’ve got to work with a group of Chinese that has a place for their Chinese performance, in Chenery, which is a really nice place for them to perform. You know it’s getting everybody together, I think that’s what I can say about Chinese New Year. Is that there is a sense of belonging for us and that’s how we celebrate, and it’ll be different for everybody.”
President Shen encourages anybody and everybody to attend the Association’s events and take part in Chinese culture. Overtime Shen hopes that the separation between the different cultures of Kalamazoo will be able to understand and work with one another.
“Anybody interested in Chinese culture or trying to understand other cultures, I would encourage them to attend,” said Shen. “Once you understand the culture and the mindset actually it will be much easier to deal with. Even in Kalamazoo Michigan. The companies we have are all global companies. The more you understand the other culture the much more easy it is for you to do business in other culture.”