Celebrating The Year Of The Sheep In Kalamazoo

Feb 20, 2015

With Chinese yo-yo’s in hand, lion costumes secured, and dance routines memorized performers took the stage Kalamazoo’s Chenery Auditorium last Saturday, February 14th to celebrate Chinese New Year. The annual Chinese New Year celebration is hosted by the Chinese Association of Greater Kalamazoo. 

People from all over Southwest Michigan gathered on a frigid Valentine’s Day evening to enjoy performances from their loved ones.

“We do this to benefit the community, for people’s awareness that there’s an Asian culture in Kalamazoo and for the students that are studying Chinese to be able to share their gifts and talents, and what they’ve learned in the Chinese class," says Kee Tsai, Vice President of Chinese Association of Greater Kalamazoo.

DeLin Shen, the association’s president says two of the main contributors to this year’s event were local schools: the Kalamazoo Chinese School and the Modern Chinese School of Kalamazoo. But that’s not always the case, says Shen.

“Sometimes actually not only the Chinese group come into to perform. Like two years ago we had an Indian dance group to perform Indian dancing. Because most of the people we know well so we try to judge their quality before we have the invitation send outs," he says.

"But there’s a main staple like lion dancing, and dragon dancing and also the drum and the yoyo, these have become really popular program, so every year we try to keep those programs intact.”  

This year the organization’s sister group from the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph area accompanied the organization’s traditional acts. There are usually about 15 performances. Coordinator of the Association, Ya Liu says that the board members have two main characteristics they look for when deciding who will perform.

“We just want to keep certain diversity of the performance and a good quality of the performance,” she says.

Tsai, Shen, and Liu have not always celebrated Chinese New Year in Kalamazoo. All three have lived in China.

Shen says that he celebrated Chinese New Year not only in China and the United States, but also Canada. He says that no two celebrations are identical.

“Even in China the different places have a different way and style to celebrate. I’ve lived in South East part of China Han Jiu and north part of China Beijing and I’ve lived in Toronto for a couple of years and Rochester New York for a couple of years and Kalamazoo for three and a half years. In Toronto or in Rochester New York there’s lots of groups that celebrate Chinese New Year. So, different groups doing different things and more diverse or decentralized. Kalamazoo Michigan, because we’re a small city and somehow because of that makes people knit together so every year’s performance is much more organized instead of different pockets of a the group doing the celebration.”

Tsai says in Kalamazoo, it’s about Chinese Americans coming together.

“I think that’s what I can say about Chinese New Year. Is that there is a sense of belonging for us and that’s how we celebrate, and it’ll be different for everybody,” he says.

DeLin Shen encourages anybody and everybody to attend the Association’s events and take part in Chinese culture.

“Anybody interested in Chinese culture or trying to understand other cultures, I would encourage them to attend. Once you understand the culture and the mindset actually it will be much easier to deal with. Even in Kalamazoo Michigan," he says. "The companies we have are all global companies. The more you understand the other culture the much more easy it is for you to do business in other cultures.”

Judging by the attendance of last week’s performance, patrons should consider reserving their seats early next year.