Under the baobab: Celebrating Lunar New Year and welcoming the Year of the dragon

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Xinnian kuaile, Happy Lunar New Year. On Saturday we began the Year of the Dragon, which symbolizes rainfall, power and prosperity. It is the most auspicious sign in the Chinese zodiac. Those born during this year are believed to be visionary leaders with a strong sense of self, energetic, determined, idealistic and independent. Over a billion and a half people in China, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore and throughout the Asian diaspora celebrate the holiday, which symbolizes a hopeful transition from the cold winter to the season of renewal.

In Korea our goddaughter Mihea Cho prepared “teok guk,” a rice cake soup symbolizing that we are officially a year older, and that we have hopes for a prosperous year ahead. Many older Americans, who served in the military, remember this period because of the Tet Offensive in January 1968, which changed the course of the Vietnam War. Today in Vietnam, many families make “mut tet,” a tray of sweets placed at a family altar as a sign of respect to ancestors. In California, Lunar New Year was recognized as an official state holiday last year.

The State College Asian population is over 10% and is the largest nonwhite group in the municipality. The Borough Council issued a celebratory proclamation, which was accepted by Judge Don Hahn. He said the holiday was “a combination of a family reunion, as well as a birthday as every member of the family turns a year older.”

The celebration is believed by many to have its origin in an effort to scare away a beast called “Nian” (year) which stalked cities and villages, attacking people, each spring. Nian was afraid of loud noises, fire and the color red. People therefore used firecrackers, dragon dances and the color red to scare the beast away.

Tribute on stage

“Blues is the Roots, the Willie Dixon Story” opened to standing ovations and ecstatic reviews at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre’s O’Reilly Theatre’s Rehearsal room last weekend. The musical was brilliantly directed by PSU MFA grad Herb Newsome, and featured PSU theatre grad Lance Joos, Michele Bankole, Kevin Brown, Mils M.J. James, Cole McGlumphy, Jenny Malarkey, Nicholas Page, Angelique Strothers and Sam Lothard as Willie. Lonnie the Theatre Lady wrote in her Pittsburgh review,

“Charles Dumas is ... Willie Dixon’s great nephew ... His loving tribute to Willie is bound to be a hit that withstands the test of time. I think its reasonable to expect to see this playing on Broadway in the not-too-distant future.” The New Horizon Theater production runs through Feb. 18.

Elsewhere around the community

Congrats to the Penn State men’s basketball team. On a three-game winning streak, they are back in the hunt for a NCAA berth. The women’s basketball team fought valiantly against the No. 2 nationally ranked Iowa team. The Lady Lions even led after the first quarter. Ultimately they succumbed, but are still ranked fourth in the Big Ten. And the unbeaten No. 1 ranked PSU wrestling team continues to dominate college mats. Tickets are almost gone for the Olympic Trials at Bryce Jordan Center.

Past president of the State College Borough’s Racial Equity Advisory Commission on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging presented the Commission’s annual report to the Borough Council. It reported on the Commission’s 2023 initiatives and proposed plans for the future.

The Center for the Performing Arts gave us a glimpse into the subculture of the NYC Dance Club scene with “Underscored” performed by Ephrat Asherie Dance Artists and the legendary elders, who also gave workshops for PSU dance classes.

The Big Ten Native Alliance (BTNA) Gathering will be held at Penn State on Feb. 23-25. The last day for submitting a presentational proposal is Feb. 17. It coincides with the the Penn State Powwow at C3 Sports Complex.

Brothers and sisters, Xin Xiang Shi Cheng, may your hearts desires be fulfilled during this Lunar New Year.

Charles Dumas is a lifetime political activist, a professor emeritus from Penn State, and was the Democratic Party’s nominee for U.S. Congress in 2012. He was the 2022 Lion’s Paw Awardee and Living Legend honoree of the National Black Theatre Festival. He lives with his partner and wife of 50 years in State College.