Flag of New Jersey and Lunar New Year

Celebrating The Year of The Dragon: Lunar New Year in New Jersey

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Recognizing the growing significance of cultural diversity and inclusivity, New Jersey has designated the annual recognition of Lunar New Year, a legislative act seen to celebrate and promote Asian culture in the Garden State.

Migration is a powerful and transformational process. Once the immigration process begins, immigrants do not simply pack their bags and leave home. They bring with them their identities, talents, and cultures.

Since the arrival of Filipino sailors in Louisiana during the 1750s, Asians have been an integral part in shaping the United States, while constantly growing in terms of numbers and influence: politically, socially, and culturally in American society. One influential aspect of Asian culture that has gained traction in the United States is the celebration of the Lunar New Year, that began on February 10 this year.

Lunar New Year commemorates the coming of spring and the start of a new year on the lunisolar calendar. As the most important holiday in Chinese culture, Lunar New Year is also uniquely observed in South Korea (Seollal), Vietnam (Tet), Mongolia (Tsagaan Sar), and other countries with robust Chinese communities. Acknowledging the contributions of Asians in culture, influence and innovation, Washington, DC and the states of Alabama, California, Missouri, and Texas have held their own Lunar New Year festivities. Recently, New Jersey took it a step further to recognize the Lunar New Year following a joint resolution passed by the New Jersey Senate on January 8, 2024.

Assemblywoman Ellen Park, the first Korean woman elected to the New Jersey legislature, sponsored the resolution alongside New Jersey Senators Richard Codey and Renee Burgess and fellow Assemblymembers John McKeon and Raj Mukherji. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed the joint resolution on 12 January 2024.

“By officially recognizing Lunar New Year, we are not merely welcoming our Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, we are embracing them and letting them know that they are just as New Jerseyan as any other communities or cultures,” said Assemblywoman Ellen Park in an e-mail correspondence to the East-West Center in Washington.

The Garden State, as New Jersey is endearingly known, is home to many Asians. Following immigration reforms in the 1960s, New Jersey has witnessed a boom in its Asian American population, with Asian communities settling in different parts of the state. In the 2020 US census, New Jersey recorded a total population of 9.3 million, with 11.3% identifying themselves as Asian. Home to the biggest Asian communities in New Jersey are counties such as Middlesex (27.6%), Somerset (20.9%), Hudson (18.4%), and Bergen (17.9%).

“New Jersey prides itself in our diversity and our long history of welcoming people from every corner of the world. And, as an immigrant myself, I know how important it is to celebrate both the traditional American holidays along with the traditional holidays we bring from the cultures. It's part of what makes our country and state so special,” said Assemblywoman Park.

New Jersey already kicked off many Lunar New Year events in 2024. On February 3, 2024, the New Jersey Symphony shared their musical talents with the community. The Newark Museum of Art hosted cultural performances during its Community Day: Lunar New Year event on February 10, 2024. Lined up for the rest of month are the Lunar New Year Spectacular at the American Dream (February 24) and Dim Sum Night at the Proving Ground (February 29).

“I have already attended three Lunar New Year events and I have at least five more in the coming days, including a Lunar New Year celebration at the Governor's House at Drumthwacket on February 12,” Assemblywoman Park shared.

By officially recognizing Lunar New Year, New Jersey has not only affirmed Asian culture as an important part of its vibrant community, but also fully embraced Asian immigrants for their cultural identities and traditions as family and New Jerseyans.

The author would like to thank Assemblywoman Ellen Park and Chief of Staff Claire Anderson for corresponding with him via e-mail and for being valuable resources to this article.

John Angelo Gerard "Jag” D.O. Calbario is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington, DC. He is a graduate student at the American University School of International Service enrolled in the Master of Arts in International Affairs program with a concentration in Global Governance.