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Phoenix's Chinese Seniors Celebrate The Year Of The Rooster

Chinese seniors sing
(Photo by Stina Sieg - KJZZ)
A larger Chinese New Year celebration is still ahead in the Valley. Phoenix Chinese Week, a series of cultural and educational events, will take place Feb. 10-12.

Two people are hidden underneath a bright and shiny lion costume, and they’re making the creature twist and bob to the beat of drums and the clang of cymbals.

It’s called the Lion Dance, and over the last few days, you could see it performed in Shanghai, San Francisco and the Phoenix Chinese Senior Center.

And in all these places, Chinese New Year is a giant party.

Leyng Eng puts it this way: “There’s a saying in Chinese that for you it’s Christmas,” he said. “For us it’s Chinese New Year.”

The holiday is the most important day of the year in China, Eng said. There must be more than 100 people at the senior center, chatting in Chinese at long tables and taking photo after photo with their tablets.

For Eng, a Shanghai native, it’s a joy to celebrate the New Year like this, surrounded by traditional music and decorations. This is just not how it was when he moved to the United States 50 years ago.

“When I was working, in industry, you barely noticed Chinese New Year because it’s just another day in the workweek,” Eng said. “But now and here, it’s a big deal.”

Teresa Yung also looked tickled by the celebration. This is a time for Chinese people to come together, she said, when they’re usually so spread out throughout the Valley.

“We really have to make an effort to, you know, have a real China Town, like San Francisco, New York, Boston,” Yung said.

And Phoenix’s Chinese seniors are making the effort – not just every New Year, but every day.

Jung, who’s the president of the Phoenix Chinese Senior Association, said this senior center has some 400 members, many of whom come here daily by bus or taxi.

For those born in China, who might not speak much English, Jung said this center gives them a place to connect with their heritage, as well as the outside world, with all kinds of activities.

“Learning English, learning computer, tai chi, lots of things in here,” she said. “It’s very active senior center, I would say. And very healthy one.”

Looking around the room, it’s hard to argue with Jung. Though there are people here in their 80s and 90s, hardly anyone is using a walker or a wheelchair. And many people here aren’t just watching the New Year’s festivities, they’re performing in them.

A chorus of Chinese women, decked out in festive red, began to sing for the crowd. After them, more music groups got up, and dance troupes, too.

Everyone was a volunteer. One old man was even doing calligraphy on red paper, and giving the pieces away for free.

Dorothy Wu smiled as she grabbed one.

“This is for good luck!” Wu said.

I asked Wu how the celebration made her feel.

“Oh, make me happy,” she said starting to laugh, “We still there!”

Meaning, we’re still in China. Here in the middle of this desert city, Wu felt like she’s still in China.

Leyng Eng felt the same way, half a century after he left his homeland. Eng said before coming to the senior center, he spent decades living and working in this country, simply not having the time or place to celebrate this holiday.

“But now is very good, because I feel connected,” he said. “And I have grandchildren. I make sure that they know what Chinese New Year is.”

It’s a time to get together, Eng said, to share a meal and look forward to a brand new year, no matter where you’re celebrating it.

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Stina Sieg was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2013 to 2018.