One of the best things about living in Los Angeles is our exposure to different cultures. Los Angeles Chinatown is one of my favorite places to visit in the city, with its many restaurants, colorful pagodas and special events. During the day, the stores open early, selling everything from Chinese qibaos, paper fans, toys and so much more. As the day progresses and the sky darkens, lanterns hanging between the buildings light up, lighting up the space with colorful reds and golds.
Let’s start with a little history. In 1938, California Gov. Frank Merriam dedicated the Los Angeles Chinatown Central Plaza in a ceremony. The plaza was built to serve as a center for the vibrant Chinese American community in Los Angeles. Fast forward to 2017, and people still find that the space really does capture the Chinese American community and its unique culture.
I’ve been to Chinatown so many times in my three years in L.A., but I’ve never had a chance to go there during the Lunar New Year celebration. This year, though, I made a promise to myself that I would go there for the festivities. I was unable to go there during the New Year weekend, but I went there the weekend after to see the parade.
It was a party in every sense. Confetti flew merrily in the air and covered the ground in brightly colored paper. Street vendors and food trucks filled the air with the aroma of delicious foods and snacks. Visitors dressed in traditional Chinese clothing took pictures with the red lanterns in the background. Shaolin masters and apprentices showed their skills and took photos with children. People lined up on the streets to watch the festive parade floats passing by.
I noticed that people of all backgrounds came there to celebrate. It wasn’t only the Chinese Americans. I talked to a Mexican American college student who learned Shaolin martial arts and who appreciated Chinese culture in general. I met a South African girl, a Swedish family and a Vietnamese couple who absolutely loved the parade. It was then that I realized just how wonderfully diverse Los Angeles is. Places like Chinatown preserve its culture and invite others to join the community at the same time. I find that truly amazing.
There are also a lot of other special events in Chinatown. In the summer, there is the “Chinatown Summer Nights,” a popular event featuring food trucks, cooking demonstrations, Chinese cultural activities and concerts and dance parties in the Central Plaza. The Mid-Autumn festival, better known as the “Moon Festival,” features cultural acts including lion dances and kung fu performances, Chinese cultural workshops, art gallery openings, storytelling and ping pong tournaments.