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Members of the Yale and greater New Haven communities gathered together to usher in the Year of the Rat and broaden their understanding of Chinese culture with Lunarfest, an event spearheaded by the Yale-China Association.

The Saturday event, which was free to the public, opened with a lion dance parade starting at 10 a.m. on Church and Elm streets and ended at Whitney and Trumbull streets. At the event, newly-elected Mayor Justin Elicker addressed the audience in Chinese. Attendees could then partake in a variety of activities designed to showcase Chinese culture to the greater New Haven community. These programs took place at the Yale-China building, the New Haven Free Public Library, the Creative Arts Workshop, the Ely Center for Contemporary Art, William L. Harkness Hall and other locations.

“China is so large, so complex, so distant and difficult to know,” said David Youtz, the president of the Yale-China Association. “Lunarfest is an opportunity to look at a lot of different parts of China.”

A key objective of the event aimed at helping attendees gain a “better and more nuanced understanding” of Chinese culture, Youtz said. While the organizers do not have exact turnout numbers, Youtz estimated that a similar number of people attended the event as last year, which attracted around 3,000 people.

While some of the day’s activities, such as the musical performances and lion dance, were more lighthearted and family-friendly, others touched on topics that were “deeper and more complex,” Youtz said — including discussions about mental health in Asian communities, opportunities to discuss the recent coronavirus outbreak and a photo exhibit about economic disparities in Hong Kong.

Youtz mentioned the recent coronavirus outbreak as a key consideration for organizers in deciding whether or not to host the event, which has taken place in the Elm City since 2012. He pointed to a moment in the parade, in which organizers momentarily paused the procession and proclaimed “jiayou” or “be strong” to Changsha, New Haven’s sister city, and Wuhan, the center of the outbreak.

Afternoon activities included calligraphy and shadow puppet workshops, photography exhibits and tai chi as well as folk dancing classes. Youtz and Annie Lin ’09, the associate director of arts programs at Yale-China, cited the volunteer efforts of many members of the Yale and New Haven communities as integral to the success of the event.

“We’re always looking for volunteers to step up and serve their community in this University and citywide effort to celebrate multiculturalism and a significant population in the local area,” Lin wrote in an email to the News. “If you have a special talent or have a part of Asian culture you’d like to share with the broader public, we want you involved.”

Yale-affiliated organizations led several activities — including the Yale Police Department’s “Lantern Riddles” and the UNITY Korean Drum and Dance Group’s performance at the New Haven Free Public Library.

Nathan Kim ’22, a member of the arts group, stated said they performed a piece, then had a hands-on activity, in which group members taught audience members how to play traditional Korean instruments. He mentioned that he felt that the event had a “great turnout,” of over 30 people as well as an “enthusiastic audience.”

Lin mentioned that additional community support, particularly from Affinity Federal Credit Union and the City of New Haven’s Mayor’s Neighborhood Cultural Vitality Grant, assisted the event. Specifically, such aid allowed Yale-China to collaborate with LEAP New Haven, a children’s educational nonprofit and New Haven Public Schools to allow students to create Chinese parade dragons and march with them at the event. She added that the Lunarfest activity is part of a wide array of Yale-China programming in public health, education and the arts that takes place throughout the year.

“What I love about New Haven is that people thirst year-round for personal interactions with other cultures, and we want to advocate demystifying the Asian cultures,” Lin said.

The Yale-China Association is located at 442 Temple St.

Neha Middela | neha.middela@yale.edu