The Chinese New Year's parade is tonight (2-19-11), celebrating the Lunar New Year- the Year of the Hare. I make my way to the intersection of Kearny and Columbus as the last half of the parade makes the turn round the Sentinel Building (1907) to proceed down Columbus Avenue to disperse. According to one Chinese Astrological website "The Hare symbolizes graciousness, good manners, sound counsel, kindness. and sensitivity to beauty. His soft speech and graceful and nimble ways embody all the desirable traits of a successful diplomat or seasoned politician.". The Year of the Hare is supposed to be less traumatic than the ferocious, past Year of the Tiger, but the worldwide upheavals from Egypt to Libya to Wisconsin seem to run counter to that theme.
One large float features the Hare with the slogan "Year to Blossom". It is certainly true that Asian American influence and power is blossoming in San Francisco. The city's first Asian American Mayor Edwin Lee was sworn in on January 10. In December, neighboring Oakland inaguarated Mayor Jean Quan, the first Asian American woman to lead a major U.S. City. Four of the 11 San Francisco supervisors are now Asian American. The Chinese American population in San Francisco is now 152,000 or 19.6 % of the whole.
June Quan, Miss Chinatown 2011
The central promoter of the SF Chinese New Years parade is a legendary organizer named Rose Pak. Rose began her career in 1971 as a Chronicle Reporter. She learned the ways of the whole City and how it affected Chinatown/the Chinese community. Eventually, she became a political consultant and worked especially well with Mayor Willie Brown. Over the years she surely and steadily advanced the careers and interests of Chinese Americans by building a network of effective, city-wide relationships from her position with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
Moving out of the intersection into Kearny I notice an open gate that allows me access to the core flow of the parade itself. Good luck! I enter the action and gaze up through a cloud of smoke from the fireworks to see a giant glowing dragon winding and pulsing down Kearny, heading directly at me. It ripples around my position, brushing my camera, and then turns right onto Columbus and then Montgomery. It is an exciting, beautiful sight.
Add thunderous rounds of drums and masses of firecrackers and smoke to this visual and you have a sense of the scene.
The parade is a strange mix of authentic neighborhood expression and corporate cheesiness. Arnold Chin who has run the parade for the last twenty years has publically acknowledged the challenge of attracting large sponsorships and money-spending tourists while maintaining "cultural and ethnic integrity".
Although street celebrations of Chinese New Year have been held in Chinatown since the mind 19th century, the first formal New Years parade was launched by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in 1931. It was exciting, charming, delightful, and controversial from the start. To counter U.S. racism and anticommunisim through the 50s the parade sought to assimilate events such as American style beauty pageants and Army drum and bugle units.
This year the parade featured the real thing - a new, exuberant Asian confidence surging through the corridors of power and culture.
Above- The Golden Dragon rippling down Montgomery Street after the parade.
click images to enlarge