Last Saturday evening, LSU’s International Cultural Center was a bustling, noisy hive of activity.
It was the week before Chinese New Year, and the Chinese Friendship Association of Baton Rouge’s New Year celebration was proving popular. More popular, in fact, than the organizers’ already high expectations.
While weaving her way through the noisy crowd of families and boisterous school kids, her camera in hand, co-organizer Yao Zeng said some people had to be told the event was full.
“It’s been getting bigger and bigger, so this year we didn’t have space for everyone.” She looked apologetic. “We feel sorry.”
This year, Chinese New Year starts on Jan. 22 and marks the Year of the Rabbit — specifically, in this case, the Water Rabbit.
Unlike its Western counterpart, Chinese New Year (also known as the Spring Festival) lasts for 15 days, this year ending on Feb. 5. In China, the first seven days are treated as a public holiday.
Formed in 1994, the Chinese Friendship Association of Baton Rouge has marked the occasion with celebrations at LSU for a number of years. Usually, they’re in the LSU Student Union building. This time, expecting a large turnout, they expanded their operation.
It was a wise call. In the end, about 270 people turned out to celebrate.
Zeng, who works at LSU and also runs her own photography studio, said the celebrations were extra special this year.
“We have a community here, and it’s the first time since the pandemic we’ve gotten together. Before, it was on a smaller scale,” she said. “Chinese New Year is huge.”
In a room off the main building, students from the Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet whiled away the time before going onstage by making dumplings, some conversing with their teachers in seemingly fluent Mandarin.
Around the corner, in the main hall, a kid’s art exhibition/auction was underway, many of the paintings centered around portrayals of rabbits. The prevalent color was red, which in Chinese culture symbolizes good luck, happiness and joy.
Heaping plates of Chinese food — some of it traditional, though most, apparently, a more westernized version — made their way to the tables. Much of the food was supplied by local community sponsors, and cooks had been busy in the building’s kitchen churning it out for hours.
Among the night’s performers was 10-year-old Vincent Lu. Softly spoken, he said he was “kind of excited” about his time onstage.
“My favorite things … are just kind of hanging out, and performing,” he said.
Unlike the kids at immersion school, Lu said he didn’t speak Mandarin.
After dinner, the performers took to the stage. The range of performances included traditional Chinese dance and singing, and even, courtesy of Zhuang’s Tai Chi & Kung Fu Academy, martial arts.
Zeng said the night was an occasion to bring people together, to catch up — time for community.