Elaine Su’s neighbourhood near Vancouver enchants her two-year-old with houses decorated for Halloween and Christmas.
Most of her neighbours are white, but January presents a chance to introduce little Ellis to the festivities of Lunar New Year, from his own Chinese culture. But this year, there can be no loud dragon dances, nor gathering to eat among friends and neighbours.
Ms. Su realized all she could do to celebrate was walk with Ellis to look at the Chinese decorations traditionally hung in doorways: red lanterns, banners and diamond-shape red posters with the Chinese character “Fu,” representing good fortune or happiness. But the Sapperton neighbourhood, in suburban New Westminster, isn’t Chinatown and Ms. Su needed some help.
“[Lunar New Year] would be a different kind of celebration for him because it would be something that he didn’t see reflected in the world around him, unlike Christmas and Halloween,” Ms. Su said.
She came up with this “crazy thought” by asking her neighbours to put up decorations to create some festive cheer. In a letter, she wrote: “I would love for him to feel like he is not alone in his celebrating and that others are excited about his culture too.”
Besides the letter, she also delivered a flyer detailing the meaning of the decorations and the proper way to hang them.
The flyer explains that the Fu character can be put up upside down to symbolize fortune “falling upon the household”, and banners – or door couplets – which say “travel safely,” “may your wishes come true,” and “good luck” in Chinese are usually hung in pairs.
She expected a few of her neighbours would accept the invitation, but as of Friday, she had received over 70 responses – about half of the households in the community, she noted.
Tasha Henderson lives down the street from Ms. Su. On her front door, there hangs a “Fu” and a pair of cartoon oxen, the zodiac of 2021; in the front porch, she has also put up a big red lantern and two streamers of fish ornaments symbolizing abundance and prosperity.
“It was exciting to have an invitation because I wouldn’t have thought that that was maybe appropriate for me to do before,” Ms. Henderson said.
For Ms. Su’s toddler, who just began to understand holidays, the Lunar New Year decorations in the community have not seemed out of ordinary.
“[It] is exactly what I wanted… . That kind of the normalization of diverse celebration is something that I was striving for. And I would love to see that happen for everybody’s kids,” she said.
Born in Shanghai, China, Ms. Su moved to Canada at a very young age. She remembers clearly how her family celebrated the holiday in her childhood: They traveled to China to reunite with her grandparents and other family members; they had big dinners with traditional food prepared days or weeks in advance; they heard loud noises of firecrackers and saw the whole city lit up by fireworks.
Ms. Su wants to replicate some of that for her children. “I think celebrations are ways that people in the diaspora – immigrants and children of immigrants – can connect with their culture in a way that begins to reclaim their heritage.”
She said her parents were very touched and surprised by the responses from the neighbours because they believe it‘d be “an unwelcome thing to do” when they moved here in the 1990s.
“I think the experience of being a racialized immigrant in this country has changed in a good way,” Ms. Su said, but added that everyone who is racialized knows that racism remains.
In a year that has been filled with more overt anti-Asian racism fuelled by the pandemic, Ms. Su said the support she received from her community is a reason for hope.
“To feel your community back you up and back up your desire to celebrate loudly and proudly your culture is not a small win. It’s a pretty beautiful, big thing,” she said.
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