A snow day for Lunar New Year's Eve: Auspicious dreams and Korematsu Day
Some people believe that whatever happens on the first day of the lunar new year portends what is to come in the new year, which is why some superstitious folks do not scold their children, let their children cry, or argue on the first day of the new year — or else they will be scolding, crying or arguing all year.
My kids are hoping the snow day gets extended into the new year, “Snow Day! Snow Day! Snow Day!”
On the western new year’s day, Jan. 1, many people make new year’s resolutions for what they are going to do better in the new year — lose 10 pounds, exercise more, Facebook less, lose 10 pounds.
Lunar new year’s does not have the same custom, but we do reflect on our hopes and dreams for the coming year while cooking and eating lunar new year’s eve dinner. The meanings are embedded in the names of the dishes, the wishes made manifest in the cooking and eating.
Losing weight is not one of them.
Rather, we cook a whole chicken in hopes that our family will be whole and together in the new year, we cook a whole fish in hopes that we will become rich in the new year (and we do not finish the fish so that we do not run out of riches in the new year), we cook soy bean sprouts in hopes of getting all that we wish for, and we bake new year’s cakes to see how high our fortunes will rise in the new year (depending on how high the cake rises).
I mull over these thoughts for my family as I steam and stew over my pots, as I dress my children in red in hopes of happiness in the new year, as I wrap up not money but "lucky money" in red envelopes.
Then (at my house anyway; this is not a real Chinese tradition), we sit down together at the table with family and friends and respectfully borrow a line from another holiday, “Why is this night different than all others?” We talk about the symbolism of each dish and make the older children retell Chinese New Year’s stories for the younger ones. Then at midnight we scare away all the evil spirits and bad luck and old year by parading through the house with noisemakers and lion dancing.
No writing down resolutions on a list, wondering whether or not we will keep them, we are proactive.
In thinking about making our hopes come true in the new year, I recall the stand Fred Korematsu took when he challenged the legality of the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of them citizens, during World War II. He went to the United States Supreme Court not once, but twice. The second time, his original conviction was overturned based on governmental misconduct — documents from several federal intelligence agencies indicating that Japanese Americans posed no military threat had been intentionally hidden from the Supreme Court in 1944. He was offered a pardon, but he turned it down to make sure that this would not happen again, to anyone.
In 1998, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In later years, he wrote amicus briefs on behalf of Muslim detainees in American military prisons. He also used to speak to the University of Michigan Asian Pacific American History and the Law class every year by speakerphone. This Jan. 30, California celebrated the first Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, the first day in American history to be named after an Asian American.
Lunar New Year’s Day is Feb. 3 this year. Also known as the Spring Festival, it signifies the beginning of spring and is celebrated in many countries around the world. It is celebrated by ethnic Chinese, Taiwanese, Koreans (Sol), Vietnamese (Tet), Tibetans (Losar, March 5) and others; and after being celebrated in America for over 150 years, it has become woven into the fabric of American culture. Every year is represented by one of 12 animal zodiac signs, and this will be the Year of the Rabbit.
The first Fred Korematsu Day celebration was held in Berkeley, California, on Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011, with keynote speaker Jesse Jackson, spoken word poet Beau Sia, daughter Karen Korematsu, and a screening of Emmy Award-winning film, “Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: the Fred Korematsu Story.”Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is an editor of IMDiversity.com Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for AnnArbor.com and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is on the Advisory Board of American Citizens for Justice. She team-teaches "Asian Pacific American History and the Law" at University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at franceskaihwawang.com, her blog at franceskaihwawang.blogspot.com, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.