White House celebrates Lunar New Year
It’s a stark contrast to see the increasing popularity of the Lunar New Year compared with four decades ago when it was celebrated by very few Asian Americans, said to Tina Tchen, assistant to President Barack Obama and chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama.
She made the point in her opening remarks at a Lunar New Year celebration at the White House on Tuesday. Many former White House staff members were among the audience.
“Quite frankly, we did not have a big community to celebrate the Lunar New Year, back in the 1960s,” Tchen said. “I grew up in Cleveland. My family was probably one of five Chinese American-families in Ohio.”
Nowadays, the Lunar New Year is celebrated everywhere, from the Kennedy Center to Lincoln Center and many places across the country; it has become a focal point for the same time every year, Tchen said.
As the final celebration of the Lunar New Year under the Obama Administration, Asian-American White House staff looked back on how far AsianAmerican communities have come in terms of political participation and promoting Asian culture.
“Within the Asian Pacific Islander communities, we have more than 200 federal officials across the country from regional offices to connect us with federal resources,” said Alissa Ko, associate director at the White House.
Over the administration’s seven and a half years, the Asian-American community has gone from one of those blips on the electoral college radar screen on presidential election night to the time in 2012 when the AsianAmerican vote became a decisive factor in the national election, according to Tchen.
“I’m originally from Indiana,” said Chris Kang, national director of National Council of Asian Americans. “Like Tina, I have not grown up in a great tradition of celebrating Lunar New Year. Over time, thinking about how far our country has come, I really started to embrace my Asian-American identity.
“My experience led to me working to provide a national voice for Asian-American and Pacific Islander issues,” Kang said.
Asked his favorite Lunar New Year memory, Kang said it happened this year. “We decided to let our 4-year-old daughter give all her kindergarten classmates red envelopes with coins and chopsticks in them to celebrate the holiday,” Kang said.
President Obama sent a Lunar New Year message on Feb 8, the first day of the Year of the Monkey.
“Michelle and I send our warmest wishes to everyone celebrating the Lunar New Year across America and around the world. This is a time filled with family, get-togethers and anticipation of the New Year.”
Pan Jialiang contributed to this story.