Gung Hay Fat Choy: (Fortunate) Blessings for the New Year

By Matthew

“And now I also see what part of me is Chinese. It is so obvious. It is my family. It is our blood. After all these years, it can finally be let go.”
Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club

I love my Chinese heritage. That might be obvious, given the name of this blog. I never let it define me growing up, but it certainly became a big part of how I grew up. Although my grandmother, the family’s matriarch, died when I was relatively young, she was always a guiding force behind my motivation to stay connected to family and teach my future children about their customs and traditions. Thankfully, my father and uncle are a living reminder of that heritage passed down from my Ying Ying (grandmother). Most important of all, I’m glad my DNA implanted a quarter of Zelda’s genetic makeup as Chinese.

Zelda eats her New Year’s orange for good luck.

Zelda was born a day after the Chinese New Year in 2016, which is why she is a “monkey” instead of a sheep. This year would be her first year of celebration, and Angela and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to show her more about Chinese culture first hand. My parents were also in town, which helped convince us that we could make the day of it. What’s better than some loud Chinese music to help a baby get tired out, right?

We began the day with a visit to my sister’s house in nearby Del Rey (A neighborhood in Alexandria, VA). After a quick breakfast, we gathered the kids together to receive their red packs, or lai see. The red packs are filled with money. Receiving a red pack was always one of my fondest memories growing up. I loved looking at the bright and colorful designs of the packs and the smell of the thin red paper. I can clearly remember a time when my grandmother smacked my butt because I snooped around her house for the red packs. “Ai yah, Matt Matt!” she said, as she went back to her kitchen to make our celebratory feast, the sweet smells of Chinese sausage, oxtail soup, long noodles, and crispy skin chicken wafting through every inch of the home. I can’t describe how good her cooking was. Nobody will ever cook better food than her. Period. But that is a story for another time.

The kids graciously accepted their gift of lai see. I think Zelda had more fun playing with the red pack than acknowledging what was inside. Maybe in a few years, she’ll start to smell the red paper and enjoy the designs.

Zelda plays with cousin Molly in her Chinese dress!

After we said our goodbyes and left my sister’s house, we eventually made it to Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax where for a Chinese New Year celebration. By the time we got there at 1 pm, the mall was already packed. We fought our way through the crowds on the top floor just in time to catch the great Chinese Lion Dance. I grabbed Zelda and held her high on my chest to give her the best view possible. Remarkably, she sat through the entire dance and paid attention the whole time silently. The dance consisted of three lions receiving lai see offerings from children, and in turn use their good fortune to help fight off a demon (evil spirits) and bestow health, wealth, and good fortune for the new lunar New Year.

Children feed the lions (dragons) their lai see offerings.

Zelda’s favorite part was when the lion (some call them dragons) dancers chewed and spit out lettuce greens into the audience three times (symbolizing the dispersal of wealth and good fortune). I hope she doesn’t do that later when we try to offer her salad. Happy and overstimulated, we packed her back in our car for the ride back home, stopping by the grocery store to pick up a few oranges to eat for good luck in the coming year. We were both surprised to find she loved them! Zelda’s first Chinese New Year is now in the books. Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Good Fortune vs. Being Fortunate

My grandparents, taken on their wedding day in China.

This Chinese New Year comes at a very tense and disconcerting time in American history. As a student of history, I am keenly aware of the steps the current administration are taking and the damaging effects of their actions. By far the most heartbreaking of his executive orders is the immigration ban. Watching the throngs of people in the audience today, most of whom were Chinese, it struck me how important it was to honor why people want to come to the United States: for a better life. I am the son of an immigrant from Hong Kong. My grandmother wanted to ensure her family had the best possible life possible. My grandfather, who was murdered by the Italian Mafia years before I was ever born, came to the United States and worked until his hands bled in Chinese laundromats in New York and New Jersey, most likely facing extreme racial prejudice in the process.

The Chinese call America the “Golden Mountain.” It is a land of freedom and opportunity. Let’s keep it that way. I would not be here without immigration. Zelda would not be here. I’m sure somewhere along the line, you wouldn’t, either. As proud as I am of my Chinese heritage, I am equally honored to be an American. Just like the thousands of men, women, and children who come her for the same opportunities. Or others who want to live their lives without fear. If my grandmother were still alive today, she would undoubtedly have a few things to say about the President’s latest assault on American life. We are all different races and ethnicities. But beneath that, we are American. Let’s remember that, and hope this year brings double happiness to everyone.

Either that, or we need to start sending lettuce by the truckload to the White House.

Zelda Enters the Dark World

Holly, Angela, Meredith, Lauren, and Sara hold their sign at the Women’s March on Washington.

By Matt

This past weekend, Angela marched with several hundred thousand like-minded men and women in Washington, D.C., alongside her friends Lauren, Holly, Meredith, and Sara. They marched to protest women’s rights, among others. Me? I had possibly the most important job of all: to watch over Zelda while they were off being badasses.

The night before the march, the ladies spent most of the evening crafting the sign they would carry the following day. Unfortunately, I was too tired to see the entire progress and went to bed before they finished. I was pleased to find this the following morning:

It was very emotional for me to see Zelda’s name on there. Equally emotional were the reasons why these women, some of whom were also mothers, chose to march: to resist the policies of the new presidency.

As early as the day before the election, Angela and I laughed off the idea of a Trump presidency. When the results came on the night of the 8th, we both sat up in bed stunned. We ended the evening quietly sobbing, wondering what the world would look like for Zelda over the next four years. Would she have the same rights that Angela has? Would they be taken away? How does a parent effectively conceptualize raising their children in America today. Have we now entered into “the Dark World?” It’s a serious question I am unsure about answering.

Zelda enjoying her shopping cart experience at Trader Joes.

While the ladies marched, Zelda and I had a lovely daddy-daughter day together. After a few tumultuous morning hours trying to get her to realize that she was a. tired and b. needed to sleep, we spent the early afternoon in Fairfax looking through some records and buying fish sticks at Trader Joes. After eating several of the fish sticks back home, Zelda was pumped to see Mom and co. again. We celebrated their successful return from the jaws of the patriarchy with tacos. Obviously.

I think I have an answer to my previous question.

It’s dangerous to go alone. You need other people there standing by you. We all need each other standing by and holding ourselves accountable. If you can’t take that, then take this with you:

Kindness. Love. Compassion. Charity. Hope. Faith.

If you have that in your inventory, then others will follow with you. If you have these things, we will all make it through the dark world ahead.

It was such a pleasure to have so many positive influences on Zelda here with us this weekend. I can say that I see aspects of each of the women in Zelda. As she gets bigger and grows, I find myself picking out the character traits inherent in Angela’s friends. I see Holly’s outspoken kindness and charity. Lauren’s assertive determination. Meredith’s overwhelming warmth and hope for the best. Sara’s “tough as nails” personae.

I’d like to think there will be a time when we don’t have to march for equality or women’s rights. In the meantime, Zelda’s extended family and friends are great companions to go questing with into the fray.

Now go forth questing and smash the patriarchy!