For many Chinese families around the world, January 31st marks the beginning of a new year. The Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is a time of reunion and spiritual renewal. 2014 is the Year of the Horse, a symbol of diligence, determination, loyalty, and victory in the Chinese culture.
With its rich cultural diversity, Montgomery County is home to one of the largest and fastest-growing Asian American communities in the country. Students of Asian American descent encompass 14.4 percent of the MCPS enrollment, and many schools have made Lunar New Year celebrations an annual tradition. Notably, Matsunaga Elementary School, located in Germantown, organizes a school-wide party and assembly every year to showcase oriental martial arts, folk dances, and, this year, Peking opera. The young performers learned their routines through parent volunteers and teachers during afterschool clubs and elective classes. The group was invited to perform in this year’s Lakeforest Mall celebration, a bi-weekly event organized by the Chinese Culture and Community Service Center.
“At Matsunaga, we cherish every student’s heritage. My boys and girls can fully express their talents while taking pride in their culture,” said Matsunaga principal Judy Brubaker during the Lakeforest performance. As the emcee for her students, Brubaker wore a traditional flowered hairband she purchased while on a trip to China, where Matsunaga recently fostered two sister schools.
In addition, the two MCPS schools with Chinese immersion programs, College Gardens and Potomac Elementary, also organized celebrations with dances and delicacies for students. Furthermore, in many MCPS high schools, members of National Chinese Honor Societies held events to celebrate the holiday.
When asked about Chinese New Year, Kim, an immigrant student at Wheaton High School currently enrolled in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, expressed an immediate nostalgia. “Chinese New Year used to be the only time I got to see my mother, a migrant worker in the cities. Our three-generation family would get together, eat peaches and tangerines, and watch television for four hours until the firecrackers went off at midnight.”
Kim also noted that “not too many people know about Lunar New Year” outside the Asian American communities. “I was very touched when my ESOL teacher wished me a happy new year and got me a chocolate bar, though that’s an atypical gift for the occasion.”
Image by Michelle Tu, MoCo Student staff artist