A Lunar New Year museum experience

on February 14, 2019

Sunday was a busy and festive day at the Oakland Museum of California as they rang in the Lunar New Year. People crowded into the first floor for a deeper dive into Asian culture and traditions. This year is the Year of the Pig, and I wanted to learn more about what this meant.

Kids ran around relentlessly, and parents did their best to keep up. This was the scene at the Oakland Museum of California’s Lunar New Year Celebration, an annual event that drew residents from across the Bay Area.

A line of traffic formed on Oak St. just for museum parking. As attendees continuously flooded through the museum entrance, the sight of walls adorned with red decorations and multi-colored lanterns welcomed them. The festivities focused on how members of the Asian diaspora celebrate the holiday and featured cultural traditions from China, Vietnam, Tibet, Korea, Japan and the Philippines.

All of the festivities were held on the first floor of the museum, ranging from music performances to arts and crafts booths. It was a packed house. Many of the parents looked tired yet happy to see their children enjoying themselves. Some of them held onto one of their children while keeping an eye on their others.

Julio Villa, 40, who came from Santa Rosa with family to partake in the entertainment, said they attend Lunar New Year celebrations every year because “we try to learn every culture.”

Jason Novak, 39, who was there with his wife and their baby, said he sees the Lunar New Year festivities as a refreshing break from the traditional American holidays—and despite not feeling comfortable in large crowds, Novak said he loves the Oakland museum and is “willing to brave more than my comfort level of humanity.” In the United States, this holiday is typically referred to as “Chinese New Year,” and often overshadows other Asian countries’ observance of the lunar calendar.

Tibetans observe Losar, a lunar festival commemorated between February 5 and 7. Koreans call their celebration Seollal, and Vietnamese call it Tet. “The lunar new year is how a lot of cultures actually measure the year. I work with a guy from Tibet; this is when he celebrates his New Year,” Novak said. “For sure, China is not the only place where they celebrate.”

Rosario Murga, 65, participated in the Tet Vietnamese spring roll making workshop hosted by members of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, and loved every minute of it. “The food is great,” Murga said. “I like the food and the fact that they taught the culture, how to use the rice to make the spring rolls. It was very nice.”

Murga also loved the numerous musical performances. Attendees sat on the concrete seats of the 10th Street amphitheater as they watched performances ranging from Philippine folk dance to Vietnamese martial arts demonstrations to a K-Pop dance routine.

The Bay Area Taiko ensemble Jiten Daiko lifted everyone’s spirits with their Japanese drumming performance. With smiles on their faces, Jiten Daiko members huddled together before the show, then started hopping in unison.

As the first mallet hit a drum, it was clear they were in sync. They produced a complex, mesmerizing rhythm, and the crowd was enchanted. They struck a pose to signal the end of the first song, and attendees erupted in applause.

An elderly woman shouted “Yeah!” prompting a child to follow her lead and scream “Yeah!” at the top of his lungs. Every song the group performed produced the same roaring applause—with the same enthusiastic child screaming “Yeah!”

As people made their way out of the Lunar New Year celebration, some attendees said they couldn’t help but feel happy. “Oakland is amazing,” a woman said as she turned to exit the museum.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: oaklandnorthstaff@gmail.com.

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