Thousands gather for Montclair’s biggest Lunar New Year celebration yet
By KATE ALBRIGHT
About 2,000 people — state officials, local leaders and community members — gathered on the grounds of the Montclair Art Museum on Saturday for Montclair’s biggest Lunar New Year celebration yet.
Organized by the AAPI Montclair, a grassroots organization of Asian American and Pacific Islander residents formed last year, the event was the group’s first Lunar New Year celebration.
Saturday’s celebration also built on the recognition of the holiday encouraged by Vicky Chang, supervisor of world languages and English as a second language for the Montclair School District, who taught Mandarin for 14 years at the school. Nishuane. Chang celebrated the Lunar New Year in his classrooms and later helped organize holiday-marking events at the Montclair Public Library.
The Lunar New Year celebration featured performances from Wu Shu Kung Fu Fitness, Korean drummers, Montclair School District’s Mandarin Program, traditional Korean dance from Choomnoori, and Junior Bees from Hive Dance Studio. Guests could also practice calligraphy, participate in crafts, and participate in an array of vendors.
Amber Reed, a member of AAPI Montclair and one of the organizers, said those involved in the event were unsure how the community would react.
“To see so many people here sharing our traditions and sharing our enthusiasm is really powerful,” Reed said. “We all dream that our children feel a sense of belonging, more belonging than we felt [as children]. And today is a day that has definitely brought that future closer.
Reed, a Korean-American who was adopted, said she didn’t have access to Lunar New Year celebrations when she was growing up. Being part of the AAPI community in Montclair was powerful for her and her family – they discovered teeokguk, a Korean rice cake soup, and her children enjoyed the tradition of bowing to their parents, wishing them well. , she said.
“I love that days like this show my kids that being Asian isn’t a burden,” Reed said. “It is a privilege and a joy. It’s a feeling I don’t think we would have without AAPI Montclair.
Being part of an AAPI community was also something participant Daisy Roble had long wanted, unable to experience it as a child growing up in Rhode Island. Roble said she was thrilled to see her niece performing with the Montclair Mandarin program.
“I was really moved that there were so many people who came out to help celebrate Lunar New Year and really embraced the Asian American culture that thrives here,” Roble said. “Hopefully as we continue there will be more opportunities for events like this as it really shows that people are coming together. And this is very important, especially nowadays.
Roble’s son, Kai Roble, said he loved seeing his cousin perform in the Dragon Dance Parade. But her favorite part of the day was watching the swift work of master paper cutter Hou-Tien Cheng. Practicing the traditional Chinese art of paper-cutting that he learned as a child in Taiwan, Cheng made Kai a dragon, in honor of his cousin’s dragon dance.
Rep. Andy Kim (D-3), the first Asian American to represent New Jersey in Congress, was the guest of honor at the celebration. Many got to know Kim over the past year through viral photos that showed him clearing debris in the Capitol in the early hours of January 7 after a mob stormed the Capitol the previous day.
“I know the Asian American community – the AAPI community – we’ve been through a lot in the last year,” Kim told the crowd, with her son in her arms. “But what we recognize is that when we come together and we have this community, it’s something worth fighting for.”
Montclair is stronger because of its diversity, Mayor Sean Spiller said during the celebration.
“I can’t think of a better place than Montclair to celebrate the breakthroughs we’re seeing,” Spiller said. “Communities like this are the model of our strength when we raise every voice, when we celebrate our differences and understand that this is the core of our strength.”
Raj Bath, an aide to Governor Phil Murphy, shared part of a proclamation from the governor on recent legislation requiring Asian American and Pacific Islander history to be part of the state’s K-12 curriculum. New Jersey is the second state to pass such legislation.
“Thank you to AAPI Montclair for the work you have done to advance the AAPI Education Bill,” the proclamation reads. “Throughout Parliament we were more than happy to sign it as soon as it hit our desks, but the job couldn’t have been done without great leaders, like you.”
Earlier this month, the Montclair School Board agreed, for the first time, to make Lunar New Year a district holiday – give students in future years whenever the holiday falls on a weekday.
The AAPI Montclair formed in the spring of 2021 in response to rising anti-Asian hatred in Montclair and across the country. The May 2021 Lantern Festival for Justice and Remembrance marked their first community event.
Amber Reed is married to Montclair local board member Justin Jamail.