The celebration of the Lunar New Year kicked off in Chinatown with a Jan. 22 fire cracker display--which tradition holds wards off evil spirits-- and wraps up with the city’s most colorful parade featuring musical bands, floats and lion dance troupes on Feb. 12.
Despite the devastating Lunar New Year attack in Los Angeles in which eleven people were killed, the NYPD said it has received no credible threats here, but is nevertheless beefing up security. There was a moment of silence for the victims of the Lunar New Year attack at the kickoff ceremonies in Manhattan’s Chinatown on Jan. 22. “Our hearts are heavy with sadness for the Monterey Park victims and their families in the Lunar New Year tragedy,” Mayor Eric Adams said in observing a moment of silence for the victims.
In one of the most heartening signs for the colorful neighborhood, three years after a five alarm fire devastated the 40 year old Museum of the Chinese in America (MOCA), it is back in business at its original address on 70 Mulberry St. in a building that has stood at the heart of the community for 129 years.
But MOCA also acknowledged both the attack on Jan. 22 in which 11 people were killed and a subsequent attack in California the following day in which another seven were killed.
“That these tragedies occurred during the lunar new year holiday—a time of family gatherings, new beginnings and renewed hope—makes these tragic events especially painful,” the MOCA said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to the families of the victims who lost their lives too soon, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Monterey Park and San Mateo communities during this difficult time.”
The NYPD said it has received no credible evidence of any attack timed to Lunar New Year celebrations here, but said it is nevertheless beefing up security.
Many of the MOCA staff expressing remorse over the attack also witnessed the devastating fire that night on Jan. 23, 2020--nearly three years to the day. “We just tried to process it and think clearly about what we needed to do—it was really hard,” Nancy Yao president of MOCA told Art News as she recalled that night. “It’s 40 years of history, 40 years of collecting and—oh my goodness—it’s going up in flames.”
Museum curators say that 95 percent of its former collection, which many feared would be permanently lost, has been saved. And many new exhibits have been added.
The museum is also launching a new oral history collecting initiative which aims to record and share Chinese-American stories; visitors can get a preview of the space where these stories are to be recorded.
The 2020 fire was compounded by other tragedies: the coronavirus pandemic ravaged New York, and MOCA was forced to close, along with many of the city’s other museums and cultural institutions. The community was also plagued by fear as anti-Asian bias and attacks surged in the city, some of which may have been motivated by pandemic-related prejudice.
Community Rallies Around Museum
MOCA aims to elevate and share Chinese-American voices as a part of US history, which often go unheard among other American narratives. After the fire, the community rallied around the museum, with volunteers working tirelessly to ensure that as much content as possible was saved. .
“We just want to share the miracle of this story with the community at large,” Nancy Yao told Straus News. “They all came out and helped us after the fire, taking objects out of the building. They really supported us, both with their energy but also emotionally because we were so saddened by the fire and the fear of losing things.
”There’s a Chinese idiom that ‘the phoenix rises from the ashes,’” says Yao. In some ways, the museum’s comeback as a result of the community’s response to the fire can be seen as a similar story of rebirth. After the fire damaged MOCA’S collections, people began to reach out to the museum and offer donations of their own cultural and historical objects. So many people donated that the museum actually has a more comprehensive collection now than it did before the fire.
“There was so much response because the generation is moving on, so a lot of people found themselves after Covid with parents that had passed away with a house full of objects,” says Yao. “We went on the road to 10 different cities to help people collect and reference these items. It’s sort of a miracle that of a bizarre tragedy ended up resulting in the expansion of our collection!”
“What we really want to underscore is we’re a US history museum, and we want to play our part in telling this diverse narrative,” explains Yao. Contrary to popular belief, MOCA is not only aimed at Chinese-American audiences; part of its mission is to expand the understanding of US history and inspire Americans from various backgrounds to explore and understand their families’ own histories.
“Let’s inspire each other to broaden the narrative and think about our own journey,” concludes Yao.
Meanwhile the Better Chinatown explains that the Lunar New Year was celebrated as far back as 4 B.C. during the Shang Dynasty. Here’s a sampling of some of the activities:
The 25th annual Manhattan Chinatown Parade kicks off at 1:00pm on Feb. 12 and heads down Mott and Canal Streets toward the Manhattan Bridge and Chatham Square. Those interested can still apply to participate by visiting betterchinatown.com.