Get off at New York’s Canal Street subway stop and the avenue opens up to a world different from the rest of Manhattan. Hot pink dragon fruit are sold on street carts lining the blocks. Chinese writing adorns the side of buildings, pharmacies and shops. Roasted pigs and ducks hang enticingly from restaurant windows. Novelty shops sell small Buddhas and little, plastic cats that wave languidly at people passing by.
On an ordinary day, New York’s China town is pulsing with exoticism, but today – for the Lunar Parade, a week following Chinese New Year – this Manhattan neighborhood is thriving. People have gathered on the streets of Chinatown for an afternoon of dancing dragons, drums and music. Confetti dots the street and flutters happily though the cold, winter air. Red, yellow and black dragons dance wave-like along Mott Street to the beats of drums.
It’s 2017 – the year of the rooster – and hand crafted roosters dance along the streets on sticks, while a man dressed like a giant rooster follows behind. New York’s annual Lunar Parade is a cultural festival and celebration – an opportunity to lose oneself to Chinese treats, traditions, and music without booking a plane ticket.
The streets are crowded with first and second generation Chinese immigrants, a multi-colored fabric of New Yorkers and tourists alike all singing the National Anthem. I can’t help but think that this is America, this is what we are and should always be: a celebration of the many cultures that converge here.
I’m with my little sister, Natalie, a first-generation American and the daughter of two immigrants: my father – a native of Colombia – and my stepmother, a native of Russia. I, myself, am an immigrant of Colombia, having been born in Bogota. I relish in the opportunity to introduce my sister to new pockets of culture in New York, where she just moved for college.
After an hour or so of watching the Lunar Parade wind its way down the crowded street, my sister and I make our way to my favorite soup dumpling place – Shanghai Asian Manor – for a (cheap!) feast of dumplings, sesame chicken, and green tea.
With confetti in our hair, soup dumplings in our bellies and smiles on our faces we make our way down the now empty streets, towards the subway. Leaving the celebration behind to go home.