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Chinese New Year, which takes placed in January or February based on the lunar calendar, has been celebrated in Grand Rapids for over 140 years. In 1876, a local newspaper noted a celebration by a group of Chinese laundry-owners which began an annual tradition. The men were part of a wave of Chinese immigrants to the US that began with the California Gold Rush in the 1840s.
Chinese immigrants were often men who were unable to bring their families with them, and they often operated laundries because they required little capital and the work was considered undesirable by white Americans. In 1882, the US banned nearly all Chinese immigration and citizenship with the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first race-based US immigration law. Originally intended to last ten years, the ban remained in effect for over 60. It was repealed shortly after China became an ally of the US in World War II, but even then the US would only grant about 100 entry visas a year to Chinese citizens.
For 2018, the year of the dog, the Chinese Association of Western Michigan shared Chinese New Year with the whole city by organization a celebration in downtown Grand Rapids. The festivities began with firecrackers at Gillette Bridge, followed by a dragon-led parade to DeVos place, where participants enjoyed culinary treats and dance performances. The event was a big hit, so keep an eye out for announcements of future celebrations.
According to the Association, which was formed in 1991, Chinese immigration to Grand Rapids has been on the rise in recent decades. Rather than laundry-owners, today’s immigrants are often highly educated professionals drawn by tech or academic jobs. The Association’s website estimates that about 100 Chinese PhD-level professionals and 40 Chinese university professors work in the area.
Cover image: therapidian via Instagram.