By Lynda Lin Grigsby
Under the light of a new moon, Asian Americans celebrated Lunar New Year isolated at home on Feb. 12.
Loneliness is not new in the now almost year-long fight against the coronavirus, but it is a motif that grates against the very essence of the holiday. Lunar New Year is about boisterous reunions with family and friends, overabundant feasts, and the free exchanges of red envelopes with lucky money.
These are not pandemic-friendly traditions. Yet, we carried on and welcomed the year of the ox hoping this year will bring more luck and escape from the racial scapegoating of 2020.
Last year was the year of the rat, an apt animal to symbolize a tough year for Asian Americans. While trying to navigate the challenges of the pandemic, we were blamed for the very virus that ravaged our families, businesses and communities. We lived in the darkness of fear and the uncertainty of safety in a nation whose leaders continually used racially insensitive terms to cast blame for the pandemic.
As a result, increased racist and racially insensitive views became a part of our reality, along with masks, handwashing and social distancing. A majority of Asian American adults — 58% — say it is more common now for people to express anti-Asian sentiment than before the coronavirus outbreak, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
In 2020, strangers verbally attacked us, physically assaulted and spat on us. In Pasadena on Dec. 29, an elderly Asian American couple was attacked while on their morning walk. In Oakland, the attack of a 91-year-old man on Jan. 31 sparked outrage in the Asian American community when surveillance video of the incident went viral on social media. Actors Daniel Wu and Daniel Dae Kim offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
“Despite the skyrocketing number of hate crimes against Asian Americans this past year, our pleas for help go unheard,” said Wu on Instagram.
Can you hear us now? The year of the rat was brutal. We welcome the year of the ox, a symbol of strength and positivity, according to astrologers. In the spirit of reconciliation and unity, let the year of the ox be the year we rise above anti-Asian sentiment. Let’s stop with the scapegoating. Let’s stop with the racist jokes — they serve no one — and come together in solidarity as friends, neighbors, and human beings.
Lunar New Year is a 15-day celebration over food. Pre-pandemic, it is a time for families to reunite over food and festivities. This year, there were no parades or dragon dance performances at the USC Pacific Asia Museum. We replaced big gatherings with small, measured celebrations. Dishes ordered from some of our favorite restaurants — still suffering from the economic fallout of the pandemic — complemented the homemade food. The celebration was more modest, but the hope for peace and freedom from hate grows.
Lunar New Year is about celebrating the past as much as the future. According to tradition, it is a time to worship the spirits of our ancestors, who watched us with worry last year. They felt the weight of our anxiety and could empathize with the feeling of being scapegoated.
Maybe in our more modest and reimagined celebration this year, we can tell our ancestors that it is going to be OK. History won’t repeat. This is the year that Asian Americans will do just enough to continue traditions and hold space for hope for a return to normalcy.
In the year of the ox, maybe there is also hope that we won’t be viewed as the enemy.