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Lunar New Year Celebrations Held In Pittsburgh, Despite Coronavirus Concerns

Maggie Young
90.5 WESA
Thai dancers from Silk Elephant Thai restaurant in Squirrel Hill on Sunday, March 1, 2020. The celebration was delayed nearly a month over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

Lunar New Year celebrations were held in Pittsburgh on Sunday after being pushed back due to concerns over the coronavirus. Organizers of the parade waited until Saturday night for a final go-ahead from the state Department of Health so the parade could proceed. 

Hundreds of spectators lined the sidewalks of Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill to watch various groups celebrate Chinese culture.

The parade was originally scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 9, but Marian Lien, president of the Organization of Chinese Americans, said the organization wanted to be cautious.

“When this was all happening, my community said, ‘Our hearts and minds are in China right now,” Lien said. “If a parade is supposed to be a celebratory event, we don’t feel very much like celebrating.”

While the decision to postpone came from a desire to support those in China most affected by the outbreak, Lien said some local community members were hesitant about having a large gathering amid the spread of the virus.

Credit Maggie Young / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
The traditional lion dance started the parade by blessing the event along Murray Avenue in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

“Today I was asked if I was doing the responsible thing with the contagion,” Lien said. “I had to remind everyone that though this is an Asian-American affair … we cannot equal the two. Having this parade does not mean that we are spreading the virus.”

The parade began with a traditional lion dance to bless the event. Two dancers animated an orange and green lion costume, with one dancer filling in the head and the other supporting the back end. The dragon danced and chomped fruit before the crowd while drums and symbols punctuated the dragon’s movements.

After the performance, the lion danced for five blocks before stopping in front of the Manor Theater.

Despite the anxiety surrounding the gathering, Lien said she was glad to have had the parade this year.

“What I saw today, with our greater community coming out by the hundreds to support this parade, gives me great comfort to know that this is indeed a community that cares about one another.”

Students from Zang Taekwon-Do performing the dragon dance.
Credit Maggie Young / 90.5 WESA

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Following the event, Lien emphasized the importance of engaging with one’s culture. She said parades are just about the most “American” way of doing so.

“To celebrate one’s identity in such a big bold way,” Lien said “this is a way of life for us. It’s mostly a rite of passage.”