Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Despite Monterey Park shooting, annual Main Line Lunar New Year celebration was biggest yet

Run by the Main Line Chinese Cultural Center for more than ten years, principal Julia Chou said the celebration is “a cultural staple for the Main Line."

Members of a children and youth class on folk dancing perform “Celebrate the New Year” during the Main Line Chinese Cultural Center's annual Chinese New Year Celebration at Great Valley High School in Malvern on Sunday.
Members of a children and youth class on folk dancing perform “Celebrate the New Year” during the Main Line Chinese Cultural Center's annual Chinese New Year Celebration at Great Valley High School in Malvern on Sunday.Read moreDavid Maialetti / Staff Photographer

The Main Line Chinese Cultural Center’s annual Chinese New Year celebration bounced back to greet the Year of the Rabbit.

Attendance at the center’s biggest event of the year was back to pre-pandemic levels, with more than a thousand people participating in the four-hour event, said Julia Chou, 48, who volunteers as the center’s principal. She called it the biggest Lunar New Year celebration in the event’s history of more than a decade.

The celebration is “a cultural staple for the Main Line,” Chou said. Around the region, Lunar New Year celebrations abounded this weekend, from the American Chinese Museum’s cultural showcase and gathering at the Penn Museum to a queer Asian party hosted by print collective Fortune in Kensington.

On Sunday, Great Valley High School in Malvern was a frenzy of activity. The crash of a gong rang out through the halls every so often from children sounding the Chinese instrument, which hung from the ceiling of the cafeteria. Also inside the cafeteria, children in white fur-trimmed traditional Chinese outfits played Pin the Tail on the Rabbit and spun handkerchiefs — a feature of Chinese folk dances. Parents sold sweet pea pudding and shredded pig ear, as well as cotton candy and popcorn.

The center, which holds weekly classes at Great Valley High, serves 300 students and their families. Starting as young as pre-K, students study language and Chinese cultural activities such as martial arts and calligraphy as well as other extracurriculars, including debate and tennis. It’s also a social hub for parents, many of whom emigrated from China, who join clubs for basketball, tai chi, and tea-drinking.

Montgomery and Chester Counties — where the Main Line is located — are home to more than 18,000 Chinese people, according to census data. Asians make up 8% of the population in Montgomery County and 7% of the population in Chester County. In both counties, Chinese is the second biggest ethnic Asian group, with Indian being the largest.

It wasn’t clear how the mass shooting in Monterey Park, Calif., where 10 people were killed near a Lunar New Year celebration in a predominantly Chinese American area, affected the celebration. The shooting has been a reminder of the uptick of anti-Asian violence over the last few years.

A police office was stationed near the door, but he had been asked to come before the shooting. Chou called the shooting disheartening and noted that it was still early and details had been scarce. She said families had been so busy preparing for the event that some may not have heard the news yet.

About 50 families volunteered to organize Sunday’s Lunar New Year gathering, starting as early as September.

They arranged shipments of traditional Lunar New Year items from China, such as red envelopes and embroidered, tasseled decorations. They coordinated with Main Line vendors to supply pan-fried leek pies and bubble milk tea. And they organized games and folk dances and children’s karaoke.

Lu Li, a hobbyist photographer and parent whose daughter attends the center, set up a photo booth to take portraits of families, where they could pose with Chinese decorations.

Inside the cafeteria, James Yang spun a red handkerchief on his index finger. Earlier, the 15-year-old, who helps teach at “the elderly English club” — an English-language class for elders — at the center, had shown others how to do the same. It was his favorite part of the day.

As the event came to a close, Ferra Liu, 18, and her friend Sarah Liang, 18, took down decorations strung up in the cafeteria. Sunday’s celebration will be their last as teaching assistants at the Main Line Chinese Cultural Center because they’re graduating high school this spring.

She said she liked being part of the center because of the “little things” — singing traditional Chinese songs, “communicating in my own language to people other than my parents,” bowing to others and no one thinking it’s strange.

Liu, who lives and attends school in Plymouth Meeting, where she said there aren’t many Chinese students, said it can be hard to balance between two cultures, especially for Asian Americans.

“Here, I kinda forget about that feeling,” she said.