Leestijd: 5 minuten

Lunar New Year: A celebration of connection and community

On February 9th 2024, Asian Raisins organised a potluck party in collaboration with Discrimination.nl Utrecht Province to celebrate the Lunar New Year and the inauguration of the year of the Wooden Dragon, which among other things represents joy, prosperity and happiness. An evening organised by and for the community, to come together and celebrate connection with blissful food and company.

What did we do?

The event was centred around celebrating identity, culture and cohesion within East and Southeast Asian communities in the Netherlands. To facilitate this, an intentional space was provided as a meeting place for people from these communities. At six full tables, stories were shared and dialogues held on themes such as identity, culture and racism, focusing on individuals and their experiences. As it was a potluck party, meaning everyone brought homemade food to share, participants were assured that none of this was done on an empty stomach.

Thanks to the many dishes that had been prepared, each representing a part of a participant’s identity, a melting pot of flavours and aromas emerged that unmistakably expressed the strong unifying power of food. This instantly created a pleasant atmosphere, which is not surprising; after all, food is an essential love language in East and Southeast Asian cultures and this event beautifully illustrated why this is the case.

Besides sharing food, Kevin Groen performed impressive spoken word acts. The topics at hand included the weight of (westernised) names and the importance of staying true to yourself regardless of how society might frame you. His words touched the hearts of attendees and powerfully expressed the emotions and experiences of our communities.

What is Lunar New Year and why is it important?

Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is a traditional festival celebrated by several East and Southeast Asian communities. The holiday is based on the lunar calendar, unlike the Gregorian or solar calendar used in Europe. It is one of the most important and widespread holidays to which gathering is a central aspect. 

The origins of the Lunar New Year are more than 3,500 years old and can be found in an ancient Chinese legend. A mythological beast called Nian (in Mandarin ‘year’), with the body of a bull and the head of a lion, snuck out of the mountains every winter to the nearest village to satisfy his hunger. He brought destruction on his path and filled his belly with cattle, crops and people. However, this beast turned out to be afraid of three things: fire, loud noises and the colour red. Thanks to this discovery, it became an annual custom for villagers to greet Nian with fireworks, loud cries and red decorations. 

Today, the celebration is known as a time to gather with family and loved ones to wave the old year goodbye and greet the new one with prosperity. Customs surrounding this holiday vary by country and culture. For instance, some will immortalise their personal wishes for the year on red cloth to hang next to the doorpost, pay respects to ancestors in traditional attire or hand out red envelopes with money. Others will visit temples or wear polka dots, because the round shape is said to bless the wearer with good luck and prosperity.

Unfortunately, this holiday is not accessible to everyone: people from the East and Southeast Asian diaspora outside Asia do not always get the chance to celebrate the spring festival. It is important for us as Asian Raisins to celebrate the Lunar New Year together as a community to bridge this gap. In a country like the Netherlands where the population is predominantly white, there is societal pressure for minority groups to assimilate to the dominant white culture. This pressure is reinforced by systematic discrimination in fields such as the labour market, media representation and (lack of) attention in political policies. Incidents of microaggressions or even overt discrimination in everyday interactions also contribute to this. For many people from the East and Southeast Asian diaspora, peers and colleagues are unable to understand or respect the meaning of, for example, the spring festival. This gives the impression that (openly celebrating) traditional customs and holidays that fall outside the norm are not appreciated, which can then lead to feelings of shame, internalised racism and a desire to dismiss non-white cultural heritage.

Sharing and celebrating these traditions openly is precisely what allows people from the diaspora to stay connected to their cultural heritage, feel the power of community and stride into the new year with pride of their own background. 

What did we learn?

The first edition of the Lunar New Year celebration with Asian Raisins not only brought people together, but also provided a platform for reflection and learning. Through candid conversations about identity and racism with both familiar and unfamiliar faces, new insights were gained and concepts created. The evening serves as a reminder of the power of community and solidarity in the face of societal challenges and discrimination.

A close-knit and self-aware community is indispensable for our movement against racism towards East and Southeast Asian people in the Netherlands. Therefore, as Asian Raisins, we want to foster this connection by facilitating safe and intentional meeting spaces with the mission of ‘healing and growing’ our communities. With our mission, we want to reflect on processing the past while focusing on the future. Not only by creating awareness about racism within and outside communities, but also by celebrating the joy of coming together.