Palo Alto residents won't have to travel to San Francisco's Chinatown to celebrate this year's Chinese Lunar New Year. The city's growing Chinese and Chinese-American communities are hosting their own, and the party is open to all residents.
The Palo Alto Chinese New Year Fair will include performances by folk dancers and people playing Chinese musical instruments, a kung fu showcase, a fashion show of traditional Chinese dress, a comedian, Chinese calligraphy and brush painting, dumplings, mahjong and tai chi. Food will be sold, but admission is free.
The fair is sponsored by the Palo Alto Neighborhood WeChat Group and the Palo Alto Chinese Parents' Club and will be held on Feb. 21, 2-5 p.m. at Mitchell Park Community Center.
The groups' goal, besides a New Year celebration and all-around fun, is to broaden relationships with Palo Alto's larger communities, said Hui (Debra) Cen, a member of the 20-person planning committee and co-founder of the Palo Alto Chinese Parents' Club.
"People need to communicate more and understand each other and build friendships," Cen said. "We don't want to see people separated. Some residents are not so comfortable with immigrants."
Palo Alto's Asian population stands at 25.9 percent and is growing, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many of those residents are Chinese or of Chinese parentage. As both immigrants and longtime Palo Alto residents, Cen and co-organizer Amy Yang said they have seen a need for stronger links within and without the Chinese immigrant community. When they became neighbors on the same block of Lowell Avenue, they noticed more and more Chinese immigrants on their block, and with that they saw cultural misunderstandings, a feeling of isolation and a lack of understanding the school system, they said.
"We understand the difficulty coming through," Yang said, noting they both came to the U.S. more than 20 years ago. Yang has lived in Palo Alto for seven years; Cen for 10 years.
In 2013, they formed the Palo Alto Chinese Parents' Club to provide a community through which Chinese immigrants could help each other. Since then, the Chinese Parents' Club has offered four to five activities annually that include parenting education, the sharing of student experiences, education regarding American culture, parent socials, mental health and suicide-prevention education, and an emergency-preparation fair.
They formed a Palo Alto Parents WeChat Group, which allows for social networking and texting, in March 2014; it grew to 500 members within two months, Cen said. The group's popularity led to a series of new WeChat groups, including Palo Alto Neighborhood WeChat, which was formed by resident Jack Sun, who is leading the Chinese New Year celebration, Cen said.
Cen and Yang began talking about creating a Chinese fair after attending the 2014 French Fair at Lucie Stern Community Center, an annual event. The theme of this year's New Year fair, "Share festivity, build community," will include a dumpling-making station where people can learn how to make Chinese dumplings, and a fortune teller -- a fung shui master -- who will advise visitors on what is good for them to do in the coming year, Cen said.
At least five culinary stations will sell finger food.
"With the Chinese population so big in Palo Alto, it really is necessary to bring everybody together," Yang said.
Yang and Cen said members of their community are eager to develop friendships with others. Their greatest barriers are language and culture.
"I was lucky to have developed a deep personal friendship with one American mom who is third-generation Japanese American and the mother of my son's best friend 15 years ago. She brought me into her social circle.
"Through her, I developed a deep personal friendship with a group of American women and understand American culture better and (have) become comfortable to social(ize) and make friends with Americans," Cen said. "Therefore, one person's openness and kindness can make a huge difference in an immigrant's life."
Cen and Yang said they hope the joyous Chinese New Year fair will be the first step in bridging that gap, and they know that building strong relationships goes both ways.
"Our Chinese community will continue to encourage our immigrant parents and children to go out of our own comfort zone to participate in community activities and give back to the community," Cen said.