爱 – ài
Despite what off-beat tattoo parlors would like to suggest, 爱 is the Mandarin word for love. To me, February has always emulated this feeling of appreciation — a mutual respect for family, an admiration for peers. And not just because of Valentine’s Day, but because every February was rich with the air of Lunar New Year.
There is an exuberance in February that March or April can’t match, as each day is met with grandmas furiously tidying rooms while children sloppily crimp dumpling edges in preparation for a New Year’s feast. This feeling of 爱 is evident, and I always find myself a little happier than usual in February.
福 – fú
Good fortune; blessing
My living room has a poster with an upside down 福 on it. An integral tradition during Lunar New Year, the vibrant red cardstock symbolizes the emergence of luck for the upcoming seasons. Previous New Year’s saw my family gathered around the living room wall, basking in the reverence of assurance that prosperity was incoming.
This year, however, I’m finding it hard to feel lucky. The rise in hate crimes directed toward Asian-Americans in the United States has been rampant, and February slowly feels like it emulates anything but 福. Everything that Lunar New Year stood for seems to be reversed in the chaos of pandemic times: our elders are attacked rather than respected, local Chinese restaurants are rampant with paranoia instead of pride and a community rooted upon 爱 is no longer the crux of the February season. I find myself anxious and reluctant to view the news, holding a disheartened sigh for the next instance of unfiltered violence toward Asian-American community members.
I’ve been thinking a lot about being Chinese-American lately: the nuances of growing up on dimsum and peanut butter sandwiches, the disappointment on my grandma’s face after I’d elected to take Spanish rather than Chinese because “Mandarin wasn’t cool” — and beyond these incremental juxtapositions, thinking about how Chinese-American youth have grown up believing we must cherry-pick what aspects of our heritage we can and can’t be proud of. Maybe it’s adolescent naivety or pressing nostalgia for Februaries of the past (when dumplings and red lanterns were the only thing on my mind), but I struggle to reconcile with the model minority perception –– a proximity to white counterparts that’s enough to ensure professional mobility for some in our community but not enough to stop verbal insults in the street. Schools are unafraid to embrace Asian-American students’ academic success but fail to protect or celebrate them outside the classroom. They tell us that we should be grateful for this careful selection of given and withheld opportunities –– that we are lucky, and that a stereotypical statement here or a racist attack there shouldn’t cause deterrence from our mindset of gratitude.
I love waking up in February feeling like there’s celebration in the air. And I love speaking broken Chinese with my parents while we flit chopsticks across the hotpot table. But this Lunar New Year feels more disconnected than usual, and as I glance towards the 福 carefully taped onto my living room wall, luckiness just doesn’t feel like enough.
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