Lunar New Year — a civic affair 

The city is gearing up for this month’s Lunar New Year celebration, an event heralded as a showcase of Chinese culture in a city where an estimated three out of 10 residents are of Asian descent.

Lunar New Year 4705, the Year of the Boar, starts on Sunday. The Chinese Lunar New Year celebration is scheduled for Feb. 23 and 24.

The city has been celebrating Chinese New Year since the early 1990s, but it wasn’t until last year that the celebration was kicked up several notches to attract more than a thousand spectators, event organizer and Millbrae business owner Joanna Ma said.

Recreation Supervisor Mike Wride said at a Monday news conference that the celebration, which is heavily sponsored by local businesses, would only cost a few thousand dollars.

"We really want our neighbors to learn each other’s culture," Parks and Recreation Commissioner Marian Kong said.

Mayor Marc Hershman, acknowledging that his Chinese dialects could use a bit of work, noted that his children are picking up more and more of the language just by going to school with several second-generation Asian students.

Hershman said their generation would likely have a greater grasp on the language and culture, a prediction that could come true if residents, community groups and elected officials continue making new connections with the city’s Asian community.

Former Mayor Robert Gottschalk said in his State of the City address last year that this was one the city’s priorities. To that end, the recreation department has re-established the Asian Outreach Committee and is seeking a sister city relationship in China, he noted.

City Manager Ralph Jaeck said that Millbrae has several employees fluent in Chinese dialects who are sometimes used as translators if someone comes up to the counter wanting to apply for a permit or inquire about some other city service. Several city documents are also printed in several languages, he said.

"It’s a plus when we’re looking for employees," Jaeck said. "If we didn’t have any [Asian language speakers], it would be a very high priority."

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, said that one of his goals in Millbrae, a city he came to represent after the November election, was communicating with Asians, who he said have not been well represented in city boards and commissions.

One issue he said he wants to tackle is a concern among middle-aged children wanting to expand their homes to house their elderly parents and the perceived difficulty in the city approval process for doing so.

San Mateo County History Museum director Mitch Postel said that immigration from China became much easier in the mid-1960s. The number of Chinese immigrants countywide has jumped since then, but Postel was unsure what made Millbrae a hub for the settlement.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, in place for decades before World War II, prevented immigration into the U.S. from China. The law was passed in part because government officials thought Chinese laborers posed a danger to the country.

Chinese New Year events

Millbrae

» The first night of the Millbrae Lunar New Year celebration, which includes Red Panda Acrobats, Beijing Opera and Chinese drum dance, runs from 7:30 p.m. to approximately 10:15 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 23 at the Mills High School auditorium, 400 Murchison Drive. Admission is $5. Tickets can be purchased in advance at the Millbrae Recreation Center or at the door.

» The festivities continue at 9 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 24 at the Mervyn’s parking lot with a more interactive performance featuring the Mills High School Dragon Team, ribbon dance and traditional lion dance, with exhibits and demonstrations from 10:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Millbrae Recreation Center.

tramroop@examiner.com

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