Reverend Norman Fong is looking for a microphone as the alleyways have been cleaned. Ruby-red lanterns hang overhead.
For the past two decades, the 71-year-old San Francisco Chinatown native has emceed the city’s annual Chinese New Year parade – but this year is different.
For the first time in the United States, the Lunar New Year will be declared a state holiday in California.
This Sunday marks the start of a fortnight-long celebration of the Lunar New Year, which is celebrated by millions in China, East Asia, and around the world.
“It’s [about] relationship renewal, debt forgiveness, and it’s almost religious in that it’s a new beginning for your life,” Mr Fong explained.
“You wish everyone, including your enemies, peace, love, and restoration.”
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While the holiday has long been celebrated in Chinatowns across the United States, it is only this year that it will be recognized by a state government.
State employees will not be paid for the day, but the new designation is seen as a show of solidarity in the midst of a wave of anti-Asian sentiment and violence fueled by the pandemic.
The Stop AAPI Hate non-profit recorded nearly 11,500 hate incidents against Asian Americans between March 2020 and 2022, ranging from verbal harassment to violent beatings.
According to the Stop AAPI HATE report, California, which has more than six million Asian-American residents, has become somewhat of an epicenter for bigotry, accounting for more than a third (4,333) of documented incidents.
While hate crimes are no longer dominating the news, Asian-Americans, particularly seniors and women, “don’t feel safe and many have lost their sense of belonging,” according to Manjusha Kulkarni, co-founder of the organization.