The Chinese Student Association's Chinese New Year banquet celebrates with lion dancing, shows, food and community. | Eva Chen/Courtesy photo

Frances Griffey

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Jan. 1 may have come and gone, but the New Year hasn’t started for everyone.

For those who follow the Lunar Calendar, this week is the start of a new year.

Cal Poly’s Chinese Student Association (CSA) will celebrate the new year by hosting a banquet on Saturday, Feb. 21.

“The Chinese New Year Banquet is a celebration we put on for the community of SLO,” CSA Vice President and architecture junior Sophia Liu said. “It’s to bring some Chinese culture into the town and welcome Cal Poly students to experience our culture with us.”

Every year for this event, CSA members write, direct and act in a performance. Liu said this year’s story, “The Amazing Race: Zodiac Edition,” is especially fun for kids.

“This year, the play revolves around the Chinese Zodiac — the story of the animals that are in the zodiac and how the story came to be and why they are the order they are,” she said.

Other shows include a performance by Wushu Taichi Center; dances by CSA’s hip-hop group, Take Out Kidz; and the Lion Dance Team (LDT), whose particular tradition dates back about 2,000 years.

“(Lion Dancing) started when the ancient Chinese decided to make a mythological beast based on stories they heard passed through the Silk Road,” said LDT’s First Lieutenant and industrial technology senior, Greg Wee.

These stories were about a fearsome creature named “Year,” or the Nian Beast, that tormented the community.

“Every New Year, the villagers would get ready to harvest their crops,” Wee said. “But a giant monster, the Nian Beast, would come down and scare off the villagers and destroy the crops. Every year, the villagers would run away in terror.”

One year, the villagers decided they had been bullied long enough and fought back.

“They knew the Nian Beast was afraid of two things: loud noises and the color red,” Wee said. “So they made their lion. They covered it with red, put up a lot of red paper lanterns and started banging on pots and pans and managed to scare off the Beast. They created this monster with a horn to scare off evil spirits. It’s pretty much the Western equivalent of a unicorn.”

Today, Lion Dancing can be seen this time of year in Asian communities around the world. Since Cal Poly’s Lion Dance Team is the only one of its kind on the Central Coast, it is often asked to visit various venues to perform a “blessing.”

“It’s believed that lions are lucky,” LDT captain and manufacturing engineering junior Ben Wong said. “What Chinese restaurant owners and business people will do, they will hire a Lion Dance group, they will perform and this performance is called a “blessing”. Generally, they lead the lion through the building (through the kitchens if it’s a restaurant) and scare away the evil spirits and bring in luck for the New Year.”

Food is also a major component of the Chinese New Year, and CSA will have various traditional dishes catered by Mandarin Gourmet. Items such as dumplings and fish symbolize good fortune, but even more important than the meal is the company surrounding the dinner table.

“It’s kind of like the Asian Thanksgiving,” CSA public relations officer and computer engineering sophomore Eva Chen said. “It’s when family comes together, people get new clothes, red envelopes (and) eat tasty food.”

Since the New Year is so family-oriented, it can be hard to celebrate during college.

“For many students that aren’t able to go home during this time, (our banquet) gives them a way to spend time with close friends they’ve met here,” CSA President and computer science senior Sterling Tarng said.

Liu said Cal Poly’s Chinese New Year celebration is the next best thing to family celebrations.

“We bond over having big dinners with families, and since we’re all away from home right now, having it as an event at Cal Poly is a really good experience for those who are going to college and not going home to be with their family,” Liu said.

For one particular New Year, Wee remembers going to Singapore and witnessing the festivities firsthand.

“There were lion dancers on the street, firecrackers everywhere,” he said. “It was amazing to me because it was the one day of the year where they had a whole bunch of different snacks and I could just eat whatever I wanted.”

In a nutshell: Family, food and shows are the main aspects of Chinese New Year.

“That’s what we’re trying to replicate here with Chinese New Year Banquet — shows, a dinner and just being together,” Liu said.

The banquet is only one of many events put on by CSA. Considered more of a social club, members have plenty of opportunities each quarter to meet and bond with other students.

“We always have an event every weekend,” Tarng said. “These can vary from small weekend hangouts like having a movie night or going to the beach, to some of our bigger events like Chinese New Year.”

CSA is a great resource for Asian Cal Poly students seeking a community where they can easily find and relate to people from similar backgrounds.

“Because our Asian population (on campus) isn’t that big, it is nice to have an organization where we are more organized and it’s easier for us to meet one another,” Tarng said.

Chen said it gave her a place to belong.

“For me, I come from an area that has a lot of Asians, so having a group like this to be able to go out and hang out with is very convenient,” she said.

For many members, CSA isn’t just a club, it’s a second family.

“It’s a home away from home,” Wong said. “It’s a place where incoming freshmen can hopefully find their core group of friends, people to hang out with and just depend on for the whole time here at Cal Poly.”

The welcoming atmosphere of CSA allows any Cal Poly student to get involved in the club, and they urge all students to come to the banquet, even if they’re unfamiliar with the Chinese New Year tradition.

“If you’ve been celebrating (Chinese New Year) your entire life and want to do it at Cal Poly since you can’t go home, you can come to our banquet and it’ll be a lot of fun,” Liu said. “Or, if you’ve never celebrated before, you can come and experience what it’s like because it’ll be really fun.”

Tarng said it’s important not only for those with Asian heritage, but also for people from various backgrounds to recognize the Chinese New Year because other cultures’ traditions can be enlightening.

“Especially this year with our different performances, they teach you more about Chinese culture,” Tarng said. “I think it’s really eye-opening for many students that don’t know much about Chinese culture to come attend this event.”

The Chinese New Year Banquet will take place in the Recreation Center’s Multi Activity Center (MAC) from 6-9 p.m.

As Wee said, “It’s kind of an out with the old — like a clean slate for a new beginning. You get to reset your fortune and then try to work harder to better yourself.”

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