Celebrating cultural diversity
Palo Alto neighborhood seeks to get residents involved through Lunar New Year, other events
When colorful lion dancers appeared at the Barron Park Association Lunar New Year celebration on Feb. 9, the gathering drew about 160 residents for food and entertainment. But the event had a deeper purpose, organizer Lydia Kou said.
Barron Park is creating a series of "Celebrate Cultural Diversity" events to attract new membership and leadership from its ethnically diverse neighborhood. Lunar New Year was the kickoff for the new project, with a celebration of the Indian Holi festival to follow this spring, Kou said.
The events are a way for neighborhood organizers to cultivate the next generation of neighborhood leaders. Associations are the watchdogs and advocates for residents, addressing issues with city leaders ranging from parking and traffic to flood control and crime. But Kou said the same people are serving in the roles over and over, and some want to step down. There just isn't anyone willing to fill their shoes.
"For a lot of organizations, the board is finding it harder and harder to replace themselves," she said. Hopefully, if people take part in their culture's celebration, they will see a place for themselves in the organization, she said.
The idea to celebrate diversity builds on former Palo Alto Mayor Yiaway Yeh's efforts last year to help neighbors get to know one another. Yeh, who grew up in Palo Alto, hosted a series of recreational events known as the Mayor's Challenge and launched a grant program that funds community-building projects in the neighborhoods.
Kou said the cultural celebrations springboard off that idea. Many Barron Park residents are from China and India, she said — and more than 27 percent of Palo Alto residents are Asian, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But often new immigrants don't participate in community events or take on leadership roles.
Kou said she hopes people will find common ground through the events. Everyone can relate to a New Year's celebration, for example. She hopes residents will embrace the colorful Holi celebration, in which powdered pigment is thrown at participants. It's a common theme to celebrate rites of spring in many cultures, she added.
At last Sunday's event, which launched the Year of the Snake, residents shared traditional foods, such as pot stickers, which look like gold ingots used in long-ago China and signify wealth. The "tray of togetherness" holds special snacks signifying close family relationships. It includes foods representing happiness, longevity, health, unity and friendship, prosperity and fertility — lychee nuts, red melon seeds, peanuts, candied melon, coconut, kumquat and lotus seeds.
Shopping for the many items meant residents went where perhaps they had not gone before, venturing into Chinese grocery stores that are a world away from Safeway.
Kou provided a list of stores. But she worried when few people signed up to bring food. On the day of the event, however, there was an overabundance, she said: dumplings, pot stickers, tangerines, oranges and trays of togetherness.
"There were many trays of togetherness," she said.
The event did bring people together, forging special connections that could prove lasting, she said. One woman had planned to make fried noodles, but her next-door neighbor, who is Asian, instead invited her to come over and learn how to make dumplings.
"And it was a really good dumpling, too," she added.
A mix of people from all ethnicities attended the event, including many Asian residents whom Kou said she had never seen before. A wide range of ages also attended, from the very young to elderly.
"It was nice to get a whole new group of people," she said.
Now she is turning her attention to the Holi festival, which tentatively could take place March 23 or 24. Kou also plans to consult with the association board about adding a pet parade to the annual neighborhood May Fete celebration.
The goal of bringing more people into the association won't be achieved with one or even a few events, Kou acknowledged. Building momentum will be key, and she hopes people who want the celebrations to continue will get involved in the association.
For the Holi festival, Kou doesn't want to be the only one brainstorming.
"I'm hoping to get together a committee," she said.
SEE MORE ONLINE
Watch a video and see more photos of Barron Park's Lunar New Year on Palo Alto Online by searching for "Celebrating the new year."
Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at email@example.com.