Colorful lanterns, dragon dancers, the smell of barbecue grilling and live music filled the air, as thousands took over Garvey Avenue in downtown Monterey Park for the first day of the Lunar New Year Festival on Saturday, Jan. 27.
The two-day event, presented by World Journal LA, Monterey Park and the Downtown Business Improvement District Advisory Committee, featured lively entertainment and activities, multicultural foods and vendors along Garvey Avenue, between Garfield and Alhambra Avenues. The festival continues Sunday, Jan. 28.
“Lunar New Year is a festival of great significance for the Asian community, symbolizing the end of the old and the welcoming of the new,” Caesar Gao, with the World Journal, said by email before the event. “Participation in the festival has become a tradition for many in Southern California and beyond, embodying a symbol of a collective desire to embrace future challenges with joy and a positive mindset, and a firm intention to work towards a better life.”
For over a decade, the festival has been held with the aim of boosting the local economy, promoting ethnic integration and celebrating Asian-Pacific traditional culture, officials say.
And the weight of significance fell upon this year’s annual festival, as it was the first since the mass shooting that, on Lunar New Year’s Eve a year ago, rocked a beloved community dance studio in the same area. 11 Asian dancers were killed hours after the festival at the nearby Star Ballroom Dance Studio.
An opening ceremony included a solemn moment of silence to remember the victims. A large crowd formed by the stage to participate in the remembrance.
Security was tight at this year’s event, with Monterey Park police stationed at every intersection of the open-street event.
Organizers and festival-goers said that celebrating this year’s holiday in the community was significant — a sign of true healing to the community in need.
“This event is dedicated to honoring the deceased from the shooting incident, and to encourage the survivors to persevere with hope,” said Gao.
Around 30 youth with the Church of Monterey Park sang lively songs at the street festival. Member Heng Cheng said it was the perfect place to evangelize, to meet people who are in need.
“We do this every year to reach out to everyone, especially young people,” said Cheng, adding that he remembered all of the happy events in his city. “And we have to stand up as a community. It’s our responsibility to support and to come out — we are proud to be Monterey Park. And we have to prevail.”
Elected officials including the Monterey Park City Council and Rep. Judy Chu were present.
“The Year of the Dragon represents strength, health and good luck, and we hope all who attend are blessed with a healthy and strong year,” officials said.
Traditional New Year Lion and Dragon dancers, dressed in colorful red, also danced to lift people’s spirits. Other entertainment included performances by Galaxy Arts Center, Chinese traditional dancers, kung fu performs, live bands and more. Disneyland had a special red-carpet pop-up, featuring photobooth opportunities, arts and crafts and giveaways.
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Councilmember Thomas Wong thanked everyone for coming to the weekend-long event, wishing everyone a prosperous Year of the Dragon.
Many attendees saw the festival as an opportunity to show the strength of the community.
Kevin and Vanessa Chan, from Las Vegas, were visiting family from Monterey Park but also made the trip to attend the festival. They said they enjoyed the street vendors and overall environment.
“Seeing everyone here, it feels really festive,” said Kevin Chan.
“Especially with what happened last year — I bet a lot of people were thinking, what if something happens,” Vanessa Chan added, “but we’re all out here anyway, there are so many of us, and it’s really nice.”
Vendors showcased foods, gifts, specialty items and services. Food booths sold savory traditional Chinese street food, beef and pork skewers, stinky tofu, tanghulu fruits and more.
Jia Yu of the Forbidden Boutique was exhibiting handmade flower hair pieces and ornaments. Yu said it’s the second time she’s been a vendor at the festival, and that it’s the biggest Lunar New Year event in the region, and great exposure for her small online business.
“It’s a lost, traditional art often used by royalty, that we’re trying to bring back to the public,” said Yu. “The community gets strong — the tragedy actually brought everyone together, so that’s why people come out, want to hang out and explore, try new things. I think that’s why this festival is bigger and greater than ever.”
— Allyson V (@heyallysonrae on ) (@heyallysonrae) January 27, 2024
Cathy & Robin Li, from Irvine, brought their daughters Adeline and Harper to the festival on Saturday, saying they heard it’s the biggest event of its kind in Southern California.
They loved the lively environment, and said it was important that their young daughters — who don’t speak Mandarin — find ways to stay connected to their culture.
“Being able to celebrate here is so special, for us as a family. The Year of the Dragon means energy, strength, and we hope to bring that into the new year,” said Robin Li.
Past Lunar New Year events in Monterey Park have drawn people from all over, and on Saturday the city welcomed back thousands of visitors — showing the resilience of what can come after a year of experiencing a tragedy.
“It’s really fun, there are a lot of vendors and different things to see,” said Gale Chang from Century City. “The lines can be long but this is where we’re spending all our day so it’s OK. It’s our first time here, it’s fun and a great way to celebrate the New Year.”
Lorna and Mike Escobar drove to the event from Chino to celebrate both the New Year holiday and Mike’s 63rd birthday. They enjoyed eating the street food, the Disneyland pop-up, seeing the lively performances, writing their wishes on wishing tree, and getting calligraphy — all signifying blessings for the new year.
“Lunar New Year marks new beginnings, it brings hope for the new year,” said Lorna Escobar, who also grew up in Monterey Park.
“Wishing for good health and prosperity,” agreed Mike Escobar.
The 2024 Monterey Park Lunar New Year Festival will continue on Sunday, Jan. 28 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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