Happy New Year!
Yes, I’m wishing you a happy New Year way past January 1st. This is the time of the year where millions of people are celebrating the Year of the Horse. Families have cleaned and decorated their homes from top to bottom, altars have been constructed, special New Year’s meals have been cooked and consumed. Everybody is doing whatever they can to ward away evil spirits. Traditions run deep during these celebrations. But there is one tradition I want you to break…please take “Chinese” out of Chinese New Year.
Just because over a billion Chinese citizens celebrate the Lunar New Year doesn’t make it exclusively their own. That’s right, it’s not Chinese New Year, it’s the Lunar New Year. On the same day, Vietnamese people celebrate Tet and Koreans celebrate Seo naal.
So what’s the big deal you might ask? Who cares if it’s called Chinese New Year? Well, I do.
By calling it Chinese New Year, it once again reinforces the ideology that Asians fall into two categories: Chinese or something else. Inherent in this ideology is that being Chinese is superior and not being Chinese…well, just sucks.
All my life, the first question people ask me concerning my ethnicity is, “Are you Chinese?” No offense to my Chinese friends and associates, but the question provokes an intense reaction. So when well-intentioned people wish me a Happy Chinese New Year, I have to control the urge to not throw a full-on-yelling-pull-my-hair-thrashing-on-the-floor tantrum. Yes China has the lion’s share of Asians in the world, but that doesn’t mean they get dibs on making the Lunar New Year exclusively theirs. They can have Chinese lanterns, Chinese horoscopes and even Chinese buffets…but I say hands off the New Year.
Also, since when does a New Year have to be ethnically descriptive? When was the last time you heard someone wish another person Happy Caucasian or African-American New Year? When Jews celebrate the New Year, you’ll never hear them say, Happy Jew Year. People simply wish each other a Happy New Year and so the same courtesy should be extended to those who celebrate the Lunar New Year. Trust me, even Chinese people while wishing each other Happy New Year leave out the “Chinese” part. It’s time the rest of the world should too.
I know that change can come. I am impressed that nowadays more and more people are accepting and acknowledging different cultures and traditions. For example, more people know about Vietnamese pho and banh mi then I ever thought possible. Not long ago, Sirracha hot sauce was a condiment only found in Asian restaurants and households, but now I find the iconic bottle in Target and grocery stores. Perspective and attitudes can change. So when the Lunar New Year comes around again, don’t wish people a Happy Chinese New Year, even if they are Chinese. Just wish everyone a Happy New Year like you would do on January 1st. Non-Chinese folks like myself will not only appreciate the sentiment…we’ll also appreciate the inclusion.