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Elk Grove Lunar New Year Celebration Draws Crowds

Elk Grove Lunar New Year Celebration Draws Crowds

Two Chinese Lions face off to bring good luck to the Lunar New Year

The Elk Grove Lunar New Year Celebration was held on Friday February 1 at Asian Sports Federation. Hundreds of people attended the event which was hosted by the City of Elk Grove and the Multicultural Committee.

Year of the Pig or Boar

2019 is the year of the pig. The Chinese refer to this year as the year of the boar. The Lunar New Year Celebration was meant to ring in the new year across different Asian cultures, notably Chinese, Vietnamese, Iu-Mien, and Korean.

People born in the year of the pig are supposedly honest and frank. They have a calm appearance and a strong heart. Pigs enjoy life and because they are entertaining, others enjoy their company. Pigs are giving souls and reap much enjoyment when they’re helping others. However, sometimes they may give too much. Pigs are known for being honest. They also expect honesty in return.

Pigs seek peace and will do what is necessary to maintain it. This trait, while admirable, sometimes makes it easy for others to take advantage of Pigs. Pigs are always doing things for others. They help when they can but rarely ask others for help. This can overwhelm and stress them, but Pigs don’t mind. In terms of money, Pigs enjoy spending more than saving.

Hundreds Come to Celebrate
Lunar New Year In Elk Grove

Lan Pham usually celebrates the Lunar New Year with her Vietnamese family.

But this year, she decided to do something a little different – she brought her 5-year-old grand-daughter Aria Sherman to the Lunar New Year celebration at the Sacramento Asian Sports Foundation Friday  night.

“I want her to learn about her culture,” said Pham, 60, of Elk Grove.
“I’m Asian and I just want to celebrate.”

Pham was among nearly 600 people who braved the downpour Friday night to attend the first Lunar New Year Celebration sponsored by the city of Elk Grove, the Cosumnes Community Services District (CSD) and the Multi-Cultural Committee (MCC).

“Elk Grove is very diverse,” said Jinky Dolar, a member of MCC who also served as the emcee for the event Friday.

“Last year, we did Diwali (an East Indian festival) and we want to make sure that everyone celebrates the Lunar New Year. This is a little different, since we have different communities.

She noted that four Asian groups – the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Mien, and the Koreans – celebrate the Lunar New Year, which begins on Tuesday. All four cultures were represented by different booths at the event Friday.

A Lunar New year celebrant picks up some goodies from the Chinese booth

Pham was eyeing the different food items offered at the Chinese booth, sponsored by the Organization of Chinese America (OCA) and the Jinan-Sacramento Sister City Corporation.

“The Vietnamese don’t have the nian gao, as she placed a sample of the Chinese New Year cake on her plate, which accompanied a  jin dui , a fried sesame ball, and an almond cookie. (At the event Friday, the  nian gao was called New Year pudding).

Lunar New Year participants load up on Vietnamese goodies

Vietnamese American Community
of Sacramento Booth

Over at the Vietnamese booth, sponsored by the Vietnamese American Community of Sacramento, a long line of prospective diners trailed across the auditorium

Adam Schmitt, 31, of Elk Grove was among the first to come away withy a plate with a Vietnamese spring roll, two cha gio, or fried egg rolls, and two sticky rice dishes. One was savory, called xoi man, and the other sweet, dubbed banh chung.

“I just moved to Elk Grove from Puerto Rico,” he said. “I want to experience the Lunar New Year and learn about the cultural mix in the city, and the overall Asian culture.”

Anthony Luu, 33, of Elk Grove was hovering near the booth sponsored by the Vietnamese American Community of Sacramento (VACOS), making sure to answer any questions about the Vietnamese community.

“I want people to understand the culture, and enjoy the good food,” said Luu, President of VACOS who also represents the Greater Sacramento Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce.

He later spoke to Elk Grove City Council Member Darren Suen, who was excited by the event.

“We’re 27 percent Asian in the city, and it’s the first time we do this, so it’s great to see all the different nationalities celebrating,” said Suen.

He said he hopes that the Lunar New Year Celebration next year will be held at Elk Grove’s new community center, which is expected to be completed this year.

VACOS president Anthony Luu with Elk Grove City Council Member Darren Suen at Elk Grove Lunar New Year Celebration

City of Elk Grove Booth

On the other side of the auditorium, there was hardly any line at the City of Elk Grove booth, which offered mostly dessert items, Chinese egg roll cookies, White Rabbit candy and red longevity candy.

But it was also the only booth at the event that had liquid refreshments, so a number of people dropped by to grab a cup of hot water, hot tea or a small bottle of water.

Alicia Tutt and Julie Rucker, both Elk Grove city employees, staff the city’s booth

Alicia Tutt, an housing specialist and Julie Rucker, who works in human resources, were glad to staff the booth.

“This is an opportunity for the community to come together to celebrate the Lunar New year,”said Tutt. “We want to celebrate diversity.”

Gloria Espejo from Jinan Sacramento Sister Cities Corporation, Nancy Woo, Treasurer of OCA Sacramento – Asian American Pacific Advocates, Conner Suen (son of City Council Member Darren Suen) & Janice O’Malley Galizio, VP of Membership for OCA Sacramento – Asian American Pacific Advocates

Chinese Booth

The Chinese booth was sponsored by OCA – Asian American Pacific Advocates and the Jinan-Sacramento Sister City Corporation. They offered fortune cookies and little pig faces on a stick for kids. Also, they offered recipes for nian gao, which is Chinese New Year’s cake made from glutinous rice.

There were also plenty of Chinese touches to the event. Each person who attended received a red envelope filled with a piece of candy which had the word “wealth” on the red wrapper.

Also, quite a number of the performances were also Chinese.

Iu-Mien Booth

Over at the Iu-Mien booth, there was no food being served. Instead, Fahm Saelee was one of two people who were handing out a Lunar New Year charm – a red-dyed egg hanging from a delicate string net.

Fahm Saelee shows off a red-dyed egg given to friends and relatives for good luck.

“We give it for luck,” said Saelee, program coordinator withe the Iu-Mien Community Services, which sponsored the booth. “It’s unique to our Mien culture.”

She said the tradition arose because the Mien people were not wealthy. So instead of giving money for good luck, they give eggs, since many families raise chickens.

Saelee explained that the charms are given to friends and relatives, who wear the unusual necklace on the first day of the Lunar New Year. They then hang it on a wall of their home for the rest of the year.

“It’s supposed to bring lots of luck for the new year,” she said.

Korean American Women’s
Organization Booth

Meanwhile, most of the people who were standing in front of the Iu-Mien tables were in line to get food at the Korean American Women’s Organization (KAWO) booth.

Yong Sok Kim serving a spicy rice cake dish at the Korean booth.

Yong Sok Kim, who is the group’s treasurer, was busy serving a spicy rice cake dish, a variation of the traditional Lunar New year dish called tteoguk.

“We do eat rice cakes in soup,” she said. “But we can’t serve soup here.”

Instead, the spicy rice dish looks more like extra thick pasta covered with a red sauce. The booth also offered a noodle dish, along with kimbap, the Korean sushi roll.

“We do not have (Korean) performers in the (talent) show, but we can share our food,” said Kim.

While everyone was busy getting food from the various booths, a small ensemble was playing traditional Chinese music on stage.

Kitty Ho plays the pipa, and students Briana Huang, 12 and Katie Zhang, 10 play the gu zheng

Locals Enjoy Food & Performances

Kitty Ho, with the School of Chinese Zither, was playing the pipa, the Chinese lute, and two of her students, Briana Huang, 12, and Katie Zhang, 10 were playing the gu zheng, or Chinese zither.

Joanne Findley, 75, of Elk Grove was enjoying the music and the food Friday night, along with eight friends from the Del Webb community.

“Elk Grove is a culturally diverse community,” she said. “This is very exciting. it’s nice to see such a turnout.”

Her plate of food reflected the different cultures – Korean spicy noodles and a Vietnamese spring roll. She had already polished off the Vietnamese dessert, banh chung.

“Some of the desserts are really different,” she said.

(left to right – Arjumand S. Azeemi (MCC), Rod Brewer (CSD) and Jinky Dolar, (MCC)

Local Politicians & Community
Leaders Enjoy the Elk Grove
Lunar New Year Celebration

Rod Brewer, chairman of the CSD board, joked he came because of orders from Jinky Dolar. Dolar emceed the event. She is also the President of Asian American Pacific Advocates.

“Jinky said I had to show up,” he said. “It’s a great community gathering.”

Kristopher J. Tan, a member of the Multicultural Committee was more effusive about the event.

“It’s about time we had Asian representation,” he said. “So many people come from other countries to America. People have the freedom to express themselves, freedom to celebrate their culture. That is what makes America great: its diversity. This is a new beginning to connect with other people from all cultures.”

Orlando Fuentes, a member of the CSD board who currently volunteers with the Multi-Cultural Committee, decided to pass on sampling any of the food because he was nervous about making a speech on stage later in the evening.

Orlando Fuentes of Cosumnes CSD Board speaks, while Scott Matsumoto of the Multicultural Committee, Jinky Dolar of OCA and the Multicultural Committe, Ashok Shankar of the Multicultural Committee, Mayor Steve Ly, Arjumand Azeemi of the Multicultural Committee, Vice Mayor Pat Hume, City Council Member Darren Suen, City Council Member Stephanie Nguyen, Rod Brewer of Cosumnes CSD Board, and Kris Tan of the Multicultural Committee look on

“I want to support the diversity of Elk Grove by celebrating the Lunar New Year,” he said.

“Diversity is important to me because I was raised in the Latino community, and I know how important it is to recognize the different communities. I hope to have future events that celebrate the Latino and African-American culture.”

But Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly had no qualms about eating before speaking. He was working his way through a plate of edibles while greeting people near the front entrance, where a pair of glowing towers formed an Asian-style “gate.”

“It’s exciting that we can celebrate something to bring us closer as a a community,” he said.

Elk Grove City Council Member Pat Hume with Liz Irons, with the Arts Commission

Elk Grove Vice Mayor Pat Hume was surprised that the storms Friday night didn’t affect attendance at the event.

“The rain didn’t discourage most of the community to celebrate tonight,” he said. “The turnout is incredible.”

Jinky Dolar started her emceeing gig on stage by thanking the food vendors.

“How do you like the food?,” she asked the audience. “They do a great job.”

Mayor Steve Ly offered the official welcome to the event.

“Elk Grove is a great city,” he said. “Celebrations like this one let us recognize the cultures among us.”

Elk Grove city council members appear with CSD board members and Multi-Cultural Committee members

Almost all of the Elk Grove City Council appeared on stage with Ly, although Councilman Stephen Detrick was absent. Rod Brewer and Orlando Fuentes represented the CSD board, and several members of the city’s Multicultural Committee also appeared.

Fuentes spoke on behalf of the CSD  board, saying the event aligns “perfectly” with the mission of CSD and the Multi-Cultural Committee, where had served as past president.

“Our goal is to focus on equity,” he said.

Dolar introduced the traditional Chinese custom of having a lion dance to start off the new year.

“The dance scares away the evil spirits,” she said.

Members of the Honor Kung Fu Academy performed as two lions cavorting with each other. Both wound up jumping into the audience, delighting some children who attempted to pet one of the “lions.”

Later, one of the lions stayed on stage for a short time, while other Academy members showed off their martial arts skills. The members used techniques with different weapons, swords, flags, nunchucks, chains and even, a fan.

Members of Honor Kung Fu Academy perform a flag set

Elk Grove City Council member Stephanie Nguyen praised the performances, and reminisced a little about how she celebrate the Lunar New Year while growing up.

“We did not have to go to school that day,” she recalled, adding that the Vietnamese called the first day of the Lunar New Year “Tet.

Everyone also had to be on their best behavior as well. “We happens the first day will set the tone for the rest of the year.”

Elk Grove City Council Member Stephanie Nguyen speaks on stage

She also apologized for not wearing the traditional Vietnamese garb, the ao dai, saying she could not compete with some of the entries in the upcoming Vietnamese fashion show.

She then introduced the Aihua Dance Troupe, which performed thrwee dances, the first was a fan dance.

Aihua Dance Group performing a fan dance

Mayor Steve Ly is of Hmong descent. Ly told the audience that the Hmong celebrate New Year twice, the Harvest New year, and the Lunar New Year.

“We have two opportunities to make New Year resolutions,” he quipped.

He introduced the Future Lao Generations, which performed two dances. The first one dance performed is a traditional  one from South  Laos, and the second a traditional wedding dance.

Future Lao Generations performing a traditional wedding dance.

Dolar returned to the stage, checking the audience’s mood.

“Are you having a great time?” she asked. She joked that she learned something from Nguyen, in that the Vietnamese have a custom of cleaning the house before New Year’s Day.

“I guess I have to clean my house in the next three days,” she quipped before presenting the traditional Vietnamese Dress Fashion Show.

Both men and women appeared in striking ensembles, with some ao dai’s decorated with embroidery, sequins and brocade. There was even a decidedly Western take on one ao, with cutouts in the front, and an other worldly print design on the fabric.

Unusual ao dai at Vietnamese fashion show

Notably, Elk Grove City Councilman Suen took the stage with two traditional Chinese greetings in Cantonese: Gung hay fat choi and Sun nien fai lok – the first wishing for happiness and prosperity and the second, a happy new year.

Elk Grove City Council member Darren Suen explaining red envelopes

Furthermore, he held on of the red envelopes aloft, saying as a child, he always looked forward to getting them, as they contained money. He also said the Chinese eat a dish call zai, which is a vegetarian dish prepared for the Lunar New Year.

“They have 25 different vegetables in it,” he said. “I did not like it, but it mean good luck, so I had to eat it.”

Suen introduced the last act, Diana’s Music Group, where two instruments are featured, the konghou, or the Chinese vertical harp, and the gu zheng, the Chinese zither.

He noted that the gu zheng has a calming effect on the listener.

“The sound soothes your soul and releases your body,” he said.

Two students with the Diana’s Music Group play the gu zheng and the konghou

Dolar had the last words. “The City of Elk Grove will hold another Lunar New Year Celebration next year. I hope that residents will make this a part of your annual tradition.”

Dolar noted the diversity of Elk Grove. “Elk Grove is a city of many cultures, but we are one community,” she said.

Congrats to the City of Elk Grove, the Multicultural Committee, and all the local organizations which helped to make this year’s Elk Grove Lunar New Year Celebration a success!

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About The Author

Tillie Fong

Tillie is a recovering news junkie and real life Lady Bird. She is a former staff writer for Rocky Mountain News in Colorado, and former on-call reporter for The Sacramento Bee.


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