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Chinese Lunar New Year Celebration Held In Park

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

National Park News

Enthusiastic families packed the park's visitor center on the morning of Saturday, February 19th, to participate in San Francisco Maritime's very first celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year.

Craft activities gave adults and children the chance to fold origami shrimp and fish, make carp fish prints, and create Lunar New Year greeting cards and banners with rubber stamps. More than 100 visitors enthusiastically braved the day-long rains, and temperatures in the low 40s to attend the day's highlight -- a Chinese Lion Dance performance on Hyde Street Pier.

The park's Chinese New Year celebration, organized by Park Guide Jordan Yee, was designed to celebrate the long history of Chinese Americans on the California waterfront, as well as the commencement of Chinese Lunar New Year 4709 (the year of the rabbit).

Ranger-led talks highlighted the pioneering role of Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans as California's first commercial fishermen, and their pioneering achievements in the creation of a shrimp fishery in San Francisco Bay, black abalone and night time squid fisheries in Monterey, and, based out of San Diego, fishing for black abalone in the waters from the Channel Islands south into Baja California. Chinese Americans also founded a sea lettuce (ulva) seaweed cultivation industry in San Luis Obispo county that existed from the 1870s to 1970s.

Several historical facts provided park staff with the inspiration for organizing this celebration. In 1851, the high-tide year of Gold Rush 49ers arriving in San Francisco by boat, 20,000, or approximately one-third of them, were Chinese immigrants. In that same year, other San Franciscans observed that the city's Chinese community was celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year with traditional observances. Thus, the customs, symbols, and images of Chinese New Year have been present on the San Francisco maritime scene from the city's earliest days.

With that in mind, the park decorated its visitor center, ticket booth, and volunteer office with traditional Chinese New Year decorations. Key to this holiday decorative scheme was the imaginative treatment of the park's replica 40-foot-long, 19th century San Francisco Bay shrimping junk. Four large five-foot-wide canvas banners, each containing a Chinese character for the phrase yi fan feng xun, were prepared and sewn on to the junk's sail. With the banners in place, the junk was transformed into a well known symbol and image closely associated with Chinese New Year. These four characters express the phrase smooth sailing. When placed on a Chinese sailboat, the complete image is a metaphor of a wish that the next year will be where one's good fortune will be unimpeded and unobstructed.

The decorated junk proved to be a good draw for local media. A photo opportunity organized for the press garnered TV coverage from three TV stations including San Francisco's Chinese language station, KQED the local public radio station, and two local newspapers.

Table-top exhibitors from Angel Island State Park, Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation and the Monterey History and Maritime Museum provided visitors with additional means to learn about Chinese Americans.


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