By Shanshan Wang
Welcoming the Year of the Monkey, about 80 elderly residents originally from China celebrated the Lunar New Year with traditional music and cuisine in Chinatown on Monday.
“We want to bring warmth to the older adults, [the] majority of which live alone in senior buildings or with family members who work days and nights, and to reminisce [about] our Chinese traditions in our villages, and maintain Chinese heritage and culture,” said Winnie Lam, home and community based service officer for the Chinese American Service League, which organized the event.
At the party, the large character “Fu”, which means blessing and good luck in Chinese, added to the New Year atmosphere. People dressed up as the God of Fortune sent out red envelopes to the elderly as the new year tradition.
Zuojuan Liang has lived in America for more than three decades and now lives in a senior building in Chinatown. Following her own passion for singing, the 80-year-old joined the senior choir about five years ago and practices once a week.
For this new year’s party, the choir prepared traditional Chinese folk songs in Cantonese and Mandarin for weeks, which conveyed a feeling of nostalgia.
“Happiness is health,” Liang said in Mandarin. “Now I don’t have any financial burdens. Also, I don’t need a lot for my life. I just want a simple life and to be happy.” Her grown children have full-time jobs, which leaves her time for a simpler life and spending time with her friends. So Liang goes to the senior center, frequently singing, doing exercises or playing Mahjong with other senior friends in Chinatown.
Though she has lived in the United States for decades, like many seniors, she still cannot speak English. She spends most of their time in Chinatown where there are almost no language or cultural barriers. Thus to enrich their daily life, and daytime nursing care for senior adults, the service league offers English courses, singing activities, and field trips to help improve their socialization, physical and mental well-being.
“It is very helpful when they need something at Walgreens,” said Susan Blumberg-Kason, the volunteer instructor who has been teaching English classes since last September. “They might never be proficient, but it’s just something to do during the day.” Before the new year, she also taught the seniors to make red lanterns made of envelopes and Chinese banners.
Ruifeng Chen is one of the students. Chen came to America from Beijing 10 years ago. When her daughter was working during the day, she felt lonely and bored since she didn’t speak English and had no where to go. After she moved to the senior building and met other Chinese elderly people, she became an active participant in senior singing groups, lectures on traditional Chinese culture and craft making, all of which helped her feel more comfortable with the life here in the United States.
“Now I feel happier,” Chen said in Mandarin. “I can make friends here through many activities like this new year party.”