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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Historic and symbolic’: Leaders from Spokane’s Asian communities excited for first local Lunar New Year celebrations in over 80 years

For the first time in 89 years, Spokane organizations will be kicking off the Lunar New Year with an outdoor celebration.

Under Spokane United We Stand, many local members of the Asian community came together to make sure the Feb. 5 event would get proper attention to detail. It will start at 1 p.m. at the U.S. Pavilion in Riverfront Park, with fireworks after dark.

Ping Ping, from Guangzhou, China, wanted to ensure the event mirrored the Lunar New Year Celebrations she experienced as a child.

“This is a day to honor your culture and get together with the people who have the same feelings and nostalgias of the Lunar New Year,” Ping said. “I still treasure these memories because it gives people a home feeling. It definitely comforts people’s minds, their hearts, as we miss the days we were in China.”

This year marks the Year of the Tiger. Traditional Chinese astrology states that those born in Hu, the year of the Tiger, are brave, competitive, unpredictable and confident.

In traditional Asian culture, instead of celebrating the calendar new year on Jan. 1, the Chinese New Year is celebrated between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20, depending on the moon cycle.

After the sudden rise of anti-Asian violence, Ping, Charity Bagatsing and Vina Cathcart came together for a local discussion.

“We decided that it really didn’t matter whether you were Filipino, Japanese or Korean,” said Bagatsing, who is of Filipino and Southeast Indian descent. “If you fit the physical profile of the slanted eyes, it doesn’t matter what your background is. You’re a target. So we started with that and united with that.”

After addressing anti-Asian crimes, other community members thought the unification could be multipurposed to celebrate the Asian community.

“We find as an organization of Spokane’s United We Stand, the more you know about their experiences and backstory, they’re humans. You find more connections than differences, and that’s what we want to do in our events,” Cathcart said.

Ping wants to celebrate the current year but also the history of Asian immigrants in Spokane, dating back to the 1800s. Celebrations for the Lunar New Year in Spokane date back to the late 1880s, before the popular Lilac Parade.

“This means a lot to the Japanese and Chinese community, and laborers were here,” Ping said. “So, this event will bring this under the light and I think this is really important message that needs to be sent out.”

For Bagatsing, the Lunar New Year is a special opportunity for the wide range of Asian communities to come together. About 5 billion people, 60% of Earth’s population, reside on the Asian continent, making it harder to celebrate a collective event in which all can participate.

“Having us unite is a little bit more challenging,” she said. “For us to come together as one and unite was really something to celebrate.”

Bagatsing wants the event to be a moment of the collective representation and pride of the Asian community as it connects Spokane’s Asian population to their native homelands.

“We have performances from the Chinese, Filipino, the Thai and the Southeast Indian, the Taiwanese, the Indonesians, Koreans and some of the other cultural groups are doing cultural displays. It’s an Asian Pride Day,” she said.

Cathcart worked in her parents’ Vina Asian Restaurant while growing up in Spokane. The food has been a bridge back to her parents’ Vietnamese origins. She hopes events like this can strengthen other people’s ties to their homeland.

“We want it to turn into something where they can learn and understand that this Lunar New Year is an essential part of Asian culture and Asian heritage,” Cathcart said. “Especially older adults, those of us who actually experienced growing up and having a little bit more ties to our homeland, we want to keep those ties nice and strong so that the future generations aren’t just feeling a sense of loss.”

The Lunar New Year celebration will end with a firework show to align with the ancient Chinese tradition of setting off fireworks to scare off evil spirits. For the many Asian organizations that came together to purchase over $10,000 worth of fireworks, it was a great preview to how the celebration should go.

“The businesses and individuals have come in to support this event because it’s historic and symbolic,” Bagatsing said. “If you want to know where your heart is, you can put your money into this and stand in unity together. And the entire community is invited, so learn about our culture, our arts, our tradition and our food.”