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HAPPY LUNAR NEW YEAR!

GUNG HAY FAT CHOY!   Xīn Nián Kuài Lè!
 

 
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I am so pleased to send out my annual LUNAR NEW YEAR GREETING, the continuation of my 15+ years of exploration of the Chinatowns of the United States and Canada for my long-term photographic project, FINDING CHINATOWN: AN AMERICAN STORY.  Most of the principal photography for the project is completed - still to definitely explore: Honolulu and Calgary! - yet, at the time of the Spring Festival that is the start of the Lunar New Year, I am always drawn back to the Chinatown of my youth, that of downtown Los Angeles where my father worked. And, while this annual visit has expanded over the years to the grander and newer venues of LA County's San Gabriel Valley, this year it was refreshing albeit a bit disconcerting to return to DTLA.

Below is one of my very early in the project (2005) photographs of the New Year's festivities: a film capture from my pre-digital (and still lamented) period that is also prompting me to return to my transparency files to see what else I might have captured then that have not yet been scanned.  Who knows what else I might find!

 

We are now in the Year of the Monkey, commencing with the Spring Festival that started with the Lunar New Year on Monday, 8 February 2016 and continues until the Lantern Festival on 22 February, 15 days after the start of the New Year.   On the Chinese calendar, it is now Year 4713, a year that continues until 27 January 2017. If you are born in the Year of the Red Fire Monkey your character is smart, clever and a bit tempestuous.

There are many ways to celebrate the Spring Festival not only in the United States but around the world as cultural diversity is a factor in the traditional activities. Several explanations of the Spring Festival and specifically, the Lunar New Year and the Lantern Festival are on links noted here.  In some cities, there may be Lantern Festival celebrations this weekend and I encourage you to experience this moment!

We were out in DTLA's Chinatown the day prior, Sunday 7 February, to capture the New Years Eve festivities. As in past years, we wandered with our friends, Eugene and Susan Moy whom we met at the Chinese Historical Society of  Southern California of which Eugene is President Emeritus. CHSSC is located in two 19th century buildings on Bernard Street that hold a lovely collection of the Chinese American experience.  With exhibits and monthly talks, the CHSSC is open to all by appointment and on Sundays by walk-in from 1-5pm.

Waiting for all to arrive, I had a chance to capture a bit more there including the library with shelves full of Chinese American-related history and an incredibly beautiful 60 year-old lion dancer mask used primarily in New Year's ceremonies to ward off evil and to bless temples, business and even weddings.  We'll see more of the dancers later in the night.  http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/Chinese_Customs/lion_dance.htm

And then we walked... peeking into stores and restaurants replete with New Year's offerings, hoping to find some early evening preparations and celebrations and, of course, have a "family" meal.  As always in LA, the cultures mash together and although closed early for the New Year, a temple that overlooks Philippe's - an historic eating venue that has line-ups during Dodger Games - intrigues and calls for a visit to view its multi-headed Buddha. That same location is also only one block away from the original Chinatown in Los Angeles and the historic founding center of the city, Olvera Street and it's original mission church.  Nearby however, an historic building, a market, stood out in this fast-changing Chinatown.  Simple, modest but representative of the history and services available in one of the major entry points of new American populations.  Nearby is a vinyl record store, a Thai restaurant and other evidence of LA's diverse influences and culture.

As noted in previous Lunar New Year greetings, things are changing. Neighborhoods historically undesirable and where ethnic and racial immigrant group were once ghettoized have become new hot urban real estate. With this gentrification there is loss. Property values have increased and new investment, while giving lip service to what has come before, changes the living conditions.

My home, Los Angeles, leads the pack and 'pack" is an appropriate word as developers slink in. As we walk Chinatown's streets, construction abounds with lofts with high rental/sale rates.  Newer immigrants from SE Asia and elsewhere cannot afford these prices and there results a disintegration of communities that prepare these newer populations for the US.

Yet some stay. Brigham Yen's blog, DTLA Rising, notes the brand new Southern California Teo Chew Association (or "Teo-chew") Cultural Center/Buddhist Temple that opened just the day prior to our tour. The Teo-Chew population, whose dialect is distinctly their's, initially emigrated from Guangdong province. In recent decades they arrived in LA from various stopovers of a generation or so in Southeast Asia. From Brigham's early post (2013): "I am very glad to see new cultural projects like this still being invested in Chinatown as it shows that the Chinese community is still involved, and as a result, helps keep the district’s cultural and historical identity alive." 

Built upon the old Center's land and with a beautiful new gate, the temple is a stunning traditional design.  I had photographed in the old store-front building a few years ago so it was exciting to visit their spanking new structure; so new that construction ladders were still on the floor. Just like the Thien Hau Temple, our final destination this New Year's Eve, that I had first photographed over 10 years ago in its old building and then visited the day of its new temple's inauguration, the Teo-Chew Center is presently pristine: no smoke from incense yet softens the view; the wall-framed canvas still vacant of ribbons and symbols of donors' generous gifts for luck and success.  Like Thien Hau, the elegance is there and the personality will soon come.

Teo-Chew was getting ready for a spectacular New Year's Eve, a new alternative to the crowds at Thien Hau Temple a block away, sharing pyrotechnicians and lion dancers.  So we ambled over to Thien Hau just in case their fireworks were early and, at 11pm rather than midnight, they were.

The crowds had gathered earlier to pray over incense and offerings and to wander the temple. By the time we arrived, almost all were outside, including so many children whose late night New Year's Eve outing promises long lives. Remaining inside the temper were those who no doubt wished to be as near as possible to the lion dancers when they entered so they could touch them for good luck.  On side tables along the back others were engaged in New Year's Day prep: chopping lettuce and vegetables for the vegetarian soup to be traditionally served starting after midnight.

From the cool silent sparkle of Teo-Chow, all here on the street and inside was busy, crowded and very red, a color of good luck.

As always, I am thankful to the many in Chinatown who allow me to share this holiday with them.  As midnight comes, we are offered food and wishes for the start of this new year.  The traditions of the New Year are longstanding, full of symbolism and meaning and the graciousness of celebrants to others underlies the evening.  Let us all hope that we can follow in these footsteps.



Photographic Project Updates!

Several very good announcments soon that aren't quite yet pubic so here just a quick update:

TYRUS, filmmaker Pamela Tom's longterm labor of love about 105 year-old artist Tyrus Wong, is making festival rounds,  On 10 March, its screening is the opening night event at San Francisco's prestigious CAAM FEST sponsored by the Center for Asian American Media.  I am honored that my photographs of Tyrus out at the beach were used in the main end title credits.  TYRUS, the Movie is winning award after award on the festival circuit.


CHINESE AMERICAN: EXCLUSION/INCLUSION, the comprehensive exhibition organized by and held last year at the New York Historical Society and in which I have several photographs of Tyrus Wong, is now at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland  through 1 June 2016.


DETROIT:DEFINITION, my long-term project on the city of my birth continues.  In January I made my 10th visit to this amazing city that is proving itself to be an example of how cities can not only survive but regenerate in a creative 21st Century manner.  More current images are presently online on my website, sarajaneboyersphoto.com, including installation views from my exhibition this past Fall at Maison de la Photographie in Lille, France as part of the LILLE3000/Renaissance Triennale.  A catalog of the show can be viewed online at https://issuu.com/sarajaneboyersphoto/docs/detroit_definitionatmaisonphoto_lil

I was so honored that this past Fall's Detroit Homecoming Conference created a wall poster of my work and printed a photo of mine on their conference booklet cover.

Best: some exciting news about this project soon to come!

Below: my birth home through the visits...