As someone who likes consistency and realness, I hate holidays. This idea that we’re supposed to stop and dedicate certain days to remind ourselves of common ideas is ridiculous. We should be kind to our moms year-round, every now and then treat our spouses to something nice and make resolutions in June. There’s even a holiday to remind us we should be thankful when, really, the other 363 days, we should be thankful too. Holidays are indeed stupid, but there is one day each year that reminds me that I’m not a white boy in Asian skin.
To my family, Chinese New Year is no joke.
Maybe we’ll hotpot on Thanksgiving and rather be working on Christmas Day, because, you know, it’s funny that Americans want to take the whole day off but they’d have nowhere to go without Chinatown. But Chinese New Year, that’s the day we bring China to Texas. We clean our house, go to the temple, do the kau cim sticks, reek of incense and eat as a family. The whole extended family. That last part’s dead serious. If anyone in my family misses “the big extended family dinner”, they may as well pack and disown themselves because in Chinese culture family is the most serious thing. Americans don’t understand “family” the way Asians understand “family”. (Just like Asians don’t understand “freedom” the way Americans understand “freedom”. Vice-versa in culture priorities.) In my family, you’d commit murder before you’d miss a Chinese New Year dinner.
For most of my adolescence, I hated this.
I know the ideal look of an extended family Chinese dinner meant everyone’s smiling and eating, getting connected with each other, but the reality is, old people are chastising us and my cousins and I are lowering our heads and taking the verbal beat down. “Why are you so fat?” “Why are you so dark-skinned?” “You’re not as smart as us, because you were born in America.” “Isn’t it time you should be married before you turn 25?” Chinese New Year can remind Asian-Americans the ugliness of collectivism, particularly that we should know our role. It can, depending on how ignorant we are of our motherland culture, also remind us of how apart we are from our native counterparts.
But as I’m now older, I realize Chinese New Year serves a very important role: an anchor to my roots which saves me from completely drifting away to a loss of cultural identity. I can find the most white-washed Chinese-American and know that their family will never let them miss Chinese New Year and how, for at least one day, perhaps even a weekend, they must be exposed to learn about Chinese culture, at least hold a damn pair of chopsticks and listen to, maybe speak, Chinese. It’s important because we can’t escape our skin in a country that judges you by color. Chinese New Year tells every Chinese-heritage person that, at least for a day, they’re part of a brother/sisterhood worldwide, that they should be proud and not be ashamed to say “gung hai fat choy”. It’s a day that some American ethnicities who have lost their culture through diaspora may envy you because you still have yours. It’s because your parents made you, in threat of figurative death and literal disownment, to see why this day is so much more damn important to Chinese (and other Asians in diaspora) than Thanksgiving or Fourth of July or Labor Day.
Yes, holidays are stupid and Chinese New Year, solely as it exists for one day, is equally as stupid if it doesn’t make Asians in diaspora a little more proud, a little more curious to learn, eat, and understand the history of your ancestors throughout the rest of the year. I don’t care about the “good luck” or the red envelopes or all the harping I get from relatives telling me I should find a wife and make grandkids. Chinese New Year has a special place for Chinese in diaspora because when the one sad day comes that all our first-generation family are gone and our diaspora cousins are the sole bearers of cultural preservation, we can thank this special, important holiday.
Now go find as many people as you can and tell them “gung hai fat choy”. Happy Pigs.
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