Written by Katherine Luo and Cheryl Tan – Tzu Chi Academy
Dear family and friends,
Lunar New Year is a time for families to join together, and celebrate the past year while ushering in a brand new one full of promise. Traditionally, families head back to their hometowns to gather with extended family and celebrate. As first and second-generation immigrants in America, we took this opportunity to reunite with our Tzu Chi Academy (TCA) family.
Each year, we look back upon everything that we as a family accomplished — all the fundraisers, classroom activities, events, and great fun we had together. This year, the administration decided to reflect not only on the past year, but also on the past two decades since the establishment of TCA. In the very beginning, we were comprised of merely 3 classes and 30 students; presently, we have 14 classes and more than 135 students. This community has certainly grown quite a bit together, through not only the bright and joyous moments, but also through trying times.
Our principal, Ms. Susan Chen, touched upon this in her address: TCA is forever family, always there for each other no matter what. Recently, our school suffered the loss of a kind, compassionate, and radiant 4th-grade student, so dear to all our hearts. Through this heartbreak, the TCA family stood together stronger than ever to support each other. The heartfelt messages running through the community gradually built us back up. Lunar New Year is a celebration of family; this event was a testament to the strength of ours. Together, we were able to join efforts to make this event successful, in celebration of all that we had endured.
Turning our gaze to the upcoming year, we held our annual candlelight ceremony and prayed for peace — and not just for ourselves, but also for our friends around the world. This gives us time to reflect and appreciate everything around us. At the same time, we can think about our hopes for the future, giving us a chance to let go of all hardships, and step unburdened into the new year. With a heart full of hope and gratitude, we can move forward and celebrate the New Year with those dearest to us.
The first thing that comes to mind when we think about Lunar New Year is food: dumplings, spring rolls, turnip and taro cake, New Year cake, rice balls, Prosperity Cake, and more, all widely loved. Seeing everyone work so hard and as one in this endeavor to create a festive Lunar New Year environment half a world away from one’s home in Taiwan was incredibly heartwarming.
To spread the New Year joy, everyone brought some food to share, which resulted in TCA having what seemed an endless supply of food. There were more than 1,000 dumplings, 400 spring rolls, and 300 rice balls! The kids had a tough time choosing what to eat due to the sheer amount of options. Even after stuffing our bellies and packing food to take home, we were still unable to finish it all.
To prevent the food coma from setting in, various stations were set up around the room for the kids to enjoy. Each station had games, activities, or crafts, incorporating themes surrounding Lunar New Year and Chinese culture. There were stations for making paper lanterns, playing ring toss, drums, pinball, calligraphy spring couplets, guessing riddles, and more. These games allowed students to learn more about their own culture interactively. For the completion of each station, students received a stamp on a prize sheet. Once they collected all the stamps, they were able to redeem a prize. In the spirit of Lunar New Year, the prize consisted of a red envelope, a Yakult drink, and a fortune cookie: three things kids absolutely love. Seeing the bright smiles and hearing the genuine laughter as kids ran from station to station with an assortment of crafts clutched in their hands, TCA truly felt like family.
With such a wonderful assortment of food, games, and activities, this Lunar New Year event was only made possible with the help of all the parents involved. During set up, parents climbed ladders to hang lanterns on the high ceiling, arranged the lion dance costume pieces, moved the tables into formation, prepared last-minute food items, set up the buffet lines, and more. We kept hearing people ask “I want to help, what can I do?” As the event proceeded, parents managed the buffet line, ran the stations, and helped guide kids around the room. Before the event even drew fully to a close, there were already parents asking how they could assist with the cleanup, prepared to do anything they could to help. We saw a group of dads all standing with the ladder, ready to start taking down decorations at a moment’s notice. The responsibilities were distributed among the entire school, and the generosity and willingness to help made the event run incredibly smoothly. Watching the hustle and bustle as administrators and parents alike hurried around the room in high spirits generated a very festive and homey atmosphere. It was hectic, busy, joyful, and exciting — exactly like celebrating the new year with family.
Tzu Chi Academy provides a sense of home and belonging in such a vast and unfamiliar place. It is a family for Asian Americans living and growing up in a Western-oriented society. As we grow up, we tend to question our own identity and culture, being so different from the majority. Cultural events like these give kids a chance to be fully immersed in their own culture and feel proud of the ethnicity they represent. The sense of pride in being Chinese often comes as a struggle, since we, ourselves, are so far removed from our own cultural roots. We hope that as kids grow up in this TCA family, they can learn to embrace Chinese culture and find a healthy balance between their heritage and their present surroundings. Though that balance is far from simple to achieve, the struggle is eased with this supportive community, and students can grow into grateful, kind, and genuine people.
As a student and a recent TCA alum, we are so deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to grow up in such a supportive and strong community. Throughout our lives, TCA has always been there to help us and cheer us on as we learn and grow. The amount of comfort and warmth we have received is unimaginable, and truly heartwarming. Now, as the big sisters in TCA, we hope to contribute to this community, and give back more than we received as we support children through their growth and exploration of their own life’s journey. Events like this give us the chance to have a hand in their TCA experience. We truly appreciate being given this opportunity, as TCA holds so much meaning in our hearts. We are proud to say that this is our Tzu Chi Academy family, and we wish everyone a very happy Lunar New Year.