5C Lunar New Year events impacted by pandemic for second consecutive year

Red envelopes, prize wheel and snacks on top of a table at Chinese Student Association’s Lunar New Year Event.
Lunar New Year celebrations by Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese student associations were limited this year due to COVID-19.(Courtesy: Jeremy Chen)

Like many festivities whose in-person celebrations have been altered by COVID-19, Lunar New Year celebrations by Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese student associations were limited once again this year.

An important holiday in many East and Southeast Asian cultures, Lunar New Year is typically celebrated with family reunions and traditional food. In the past, various 5C student clubs have hosted Lunar New Year celebrations to replicate these traditions.

In March 2020, just before the pandemic forced students to learn remotely, the Chinese Student Association hosted a Chinese New Year gala in McKenna Auditorium, where attendees received traditional hongbao (red packets filled with money) and enjoyed student performances. In previous years, the Korean Student Association has also hosted a LNY event with traditional Korean activities and food.

This year amid a surge in COVID-19 cases owing to the Omicron variant, college administrators canceled all in-person events till Feb. 7, impacting Lunar New Year, which fell on Feb. 1 this year.

Because of this policy, both the Chinese Student Association and Korean Student Association canceled their original in-person celebration plans. 

KSA hopes to organize a belated in-person celebration, although COVID-19 restrictions may make it difficult for the club to offer meals as planned, according to club president Katheryn Yoo PZ ’24.

The Vietnamese Student Association hosted an online board games event and distributed red envelopes with Vietnamese-themed stickers, the club’s president Kendra Nguyen PO ‘24 said.

Aside from COVID-19 restrictions, funding complications threw a new twist into February’s celebration.

The CSA faced difficulties accessing funding, which in turn affected its Lunar New Year plans. The club received only $350 of the $1,000 in funding it requested at the beginning of the year, according to Adeena Liang PO ’23, ASPC’s vice president of finance. This is because the club had $3,000 in leftover funds, they said.

Additionally, CSA club members had trouble obtaining reimbursements from ASPC for past purchases, according to CSA’s Chair of Finance Belinda Wang CM ’23.

The club hosted six events throughout the fall semester, including a new student welcome mixer and mid-autumn festival celebration, for which the club requested around $2,000 in reimbursement.

By the time LNY rolled around, CSA hadn’t received any of the six reimbursement checks requested. Without reimbursements, CSA members felt wary about spending more of their own money for the Lunar New Year event, Wang said.

Hubery Hu PO ’25, a member of the club’s activities department, posted an Instagram story on Jan. 30 claiming that CSA only had $200 for LNY celebrations. Hu’s caption said “it seems that 5C is not supporting the most valuable festival for Chinese students.” The story was quickly reposted across 5C social media.

“We didn’t expect that to go viral,” Wang said. “Since we didn’t get the checks, [we were thinking] maybe we should shrink the fund … but I wasn’t planning to just spend $200. Maybe $200 just on snacks.”

After seeing the social media posts, ASPC first year class president Devlin Orlin PO ’25 connected CSA to ASPC’s accountant, Sergio Ortiz, who has since worked with Wang to try to get the club their missing reimbursement checks. 

“He is super helpful. He was responding really fast, and then we finally got our first check,” Wang said.

Ultimately, CSA hosted a two-part celebration for LNY, the club’s president Carina Zhao CMC ’24 explained. On Feb. 4, the club offered milk tea and Chinese snacks and ran a raffle outside Claremont McKenna College’s Collins Dining Hall.

Then, to replace the live performances planned for an in-person gala, club members recorded the performances and released them on YouTube, Chinese streaming site BiliBili and Chinese social media app WeChat throughout the week of February 7. In total, CSA spent around $500 on this year’s LNY celebrations, according to Wang.

Outside of club events, many students celebrated LNY by having smaller dinners with friends in dorms and at restaurants in Los Angeles.

Hu went to a hot pot restaurant in LA Chinatown whose chain also had locations in China. Yoo shared that many Korean students she knew went to Korean restaurants. Several Vietnamese students who lived near campus returned home to celebrate the holiday, Nguyen said.

Angel Yuan PO ’25 ordered takeout and celebrated with a few friends in the lounge of her dorm. 

“Usually back home, we’d all wear red, we would make dumplings, go to family, friends houses, lots of red packets would go around,” she said. “The main difference is just [that] I didn’t get to spend it with my mom this year, which is bittersweet.”

Pomona’s Asian American Resource Center and Pitzer’s Asian Pacific American Coalition also provided LNY care packages to community members.

“For the spring festival we have a [family] reunion meeting, so [this year was] a bit lonely. I think spending time with my friends and celebrating together helped me a lot,” Zhao said.

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