Lion dances, firecrackers, and garlands of red lanterns on Monday could not dispel the economic worries facing New York’s Chinese community this Lunar New Year.
The city’s estimated 302,000-strong ethnic Chinese community ignored sub-freezing temperatures for a noisy and colorful display marking the start of the Year of the Ox.
At the Sarah D. Roosevelt park in Manhattan’s Chinatown, children shrieked with delight — and mothers rushed to cover infants’ ears — at the storm of firecrackers meant to drive off bad spirits.
Immigrant Marian Cheng took her children Benjamin, 10, and Alysa, eight, out of school for the day to make sure they could enjoy their Chinese heritage.
“Red, that’s the color of luck,” she said, pointing to the lanterns, streams of bangers and the Chinese flag floating along the Stars and Stripes.
Cheng said there would be nothing easy about this year, though.
“The ox is humble and strong and patient. But the ox is also about having to work very hard,” she laughed.
Most of Chinatown, one of the most tightly packed and vibrant areas of New York, was closed for the holiday. But some shops stayed open in what are proving to be tough economic times for the city.
“In this kind of business, we don’t take a break,” said Cindy Cheung, 40.
A dozen customers jostled in her Phoenix Gift and Beauty Shop — mostly hunting for lottery tickets.
“We’ll get through, but the crisis is already hurting some people, restaurants especially,” Cheung said.
Amy Milford, 40, who works at a synagogue museum near Chinatown, joined the majority Chinese-American crowd at the street party.
“I love the color and the excitement and the firecrackers going off,” she said.
Milford expressed admiration for the hardworking Chinese, who have taken over most of what used to be Little Italy, as older Italian immigrants move to outlying neighborhoods.
“This part of New York has always been a place for new arrivals. Then people work to get out of here, like the Jews, the Poles, the Italians,” she said.
New York Governor David Paterson echoed that sentiment, saying in a statement that the achievements of Chinese-Americans “far outpace” their relative population.
“This community has come to embody the spirit of one of nature’s strongest and hardest workers,” he said.
But the frantic pace of life in Chinatown disguises the fact that here too the economy is hurting.
Ming Mui, 27, spent Monday helping friends on a door-to-door lion dance to raise funds for the non-profit NY Rockits, which organizes Asian youth basketball tournaments.
He lost his job at a financial services company in October and is still jobless.
“I know a lot of people in the same situation. So now we go out less and that way restaurants also suffer,” he said.
One of his friends stood inside the huge, multi-colored lion head. Another swung the tail, which was several meters long, from side to side. Three other men beat cymbals and a huge Chinese drum.
The little procession swayed down icy pavements, stopping to collect red envelopes containing donations from local businesses, like Hotel 91, Kim Tin Trading Co and East Seafood.
In exchange for the charity, businesses get something entrepreneurs need more than ever in New York.
“We bow three times to wish the business good luck and prosperity,” Mui said. “And the lion is meant to scare away the evil spirits.”