Chinatown came alive Sunday afternoon with explosive color, laughter and music as Chicago celebrated the Lunar New Year with a lively parade.
Brandy Kline, who attended the parade with her 4-year-old, said she had moved to the city from Milwaukee a year and a half ago in order to meet new people and be around different cultures. She now lives in Avondale.
“(We’re) trying to sort of, now that the pandemic feels like it’s coming down, to spread out and spend some time in other neighborhoods, and spend money locally, support all the businesses that are still trying to pull back,” said Kline, who had been carrying her daughter on her shoulders.
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Dragons danced up South Wentworth Avenue under red lanterns hanging across the street as people dressed up as rabbits bounced along. This Chinese New Year fell on Jan. 22, marking the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit.
The parade traveled from the intersection of West 24th Street and South Wentworth Avenue north toward the viewing stand at Cermak Road and Wentworth. Marching bands marked the parade with a drumming beat and booming trumpets.
Paradegoers swarmed restaurants and shops as the parade drew to a close around 1:40 p.m. Snow covered the distinctive roofs of the buildings that lined the street, establishments brimming with patrons.
Outside a souvenir shop, Zach Knoch waited with his two sons for his wife and daughter. Knoch told the Tribune he met his wife in China while they were teaching there for a few years. His oldest son is 11 — which makes this his Year of the Rabbit.
Knoch and his wife had been to the Chinese New Year Parade eight years ago and enjoyed it.
“We like Chinese culture, and we decided this was a good year to kind of come back,” he said. “The kids were just the right age, so it was kind of good timing.”
The Knoch family was headed to lunch — dumplings, maybe, said one of the kids as his father chuckled.
Nozomi and Lauren Shirato brought their daughter, who is half-Japanese, to the parade in hopes that she could connect with another Asian culture as an Asian American herself.
Lauren Shirato has lived in Chicago for 20 years, but it’s her first time participating in the New Year parade. In 2022, the family had been eating dim sum during the parade and saw some dragons from afar and decided to come this year to see them up close.
“Our daughter’s age — she’s 3 ½ — so she can kind of understand,” Nozomi Shirato said. “She celebrates the Chinese New Year at her day care, so she’s more aware of her East Asian identity. So I think she really enjoyed coming here.”
The only disappointing aspect to the day, Lauren Shirato said, was the long wait times at restaurants and stores in Chinatown after the parade. But the family was able to enjoy some dim sum nonetheless.
Grace Shi, 22, said watching the parade was very nostalgic because she has seen it every year since she was little. She lives in Brighton Park but spends a lot of time in Chinatown, she said, since it’s where her family goes to church.
“It’s different now that I’m older, but it was still really nostalgic and really fun for me to watch” the parade, she said.
Shi talked about the Jan. 21 shooting in Monterey Park, California, in which a gunman killed 11 people at a ballroom dance studio on the eve of Lunar New Year.
[ Chicagoans remember 10 killed in Lunar New Year celebration near Los Angeles ]
“I think it was obviously a very tragic event, and it was heartbreaking for a lot of us in the community. Because I think since COVID, there’s just been a lot of Asian hate in general,” she said. “I mean, the shooting was a separate event, because it was not necessarily a hate crime.”
But, she added, the tragedy underscored the mental health crisis happening in the Asian community in the United States.
“I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in all the negatives because of what’s been going on lately,” Shi said. “So having some positivity and looking forward to a new year, a better year, really helps us get through.”