San Francisco’s Chinese New Year parade comes back to life after pandemic hiatus

A battery of drums rang out on Market Street in San Francisco on Saturday as trucks rolled by adorned with tasselled dragons and men in work boots adjusted a float designed like a BART car.

After a year-long hiatus, the San Francisco Chinese New Year Festival and Parade has come back to life.

Thousands of people gathered to celebrate the Year of the Tiger, which many hoped would mark the end of a grueling pandemic, an explosion of violent crimes against Asian Americans and other crises that began in 2020 and continued to worsen in 2022.

“We hope the community will continue to be resilient,” said Stephanie Wong, a longtime parade participant and winner of San Francisco’s 2016 Miss Chinatown USA pageant. She volunteered to help organize this year’s competition, which ended last week with a coronation ball at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

The theme, Wong said, was “Resilience embracing beauty and strength.” The winner would sit on a throne atop a parade float, festooned with roses.

Officials aimed to draw large crowds to the festivities on Saturday evening, and by 4 p.m. transbay BART trains had standing room only – although at dusk some downtown streets seemed even quieter than in previous parades.

Lion dancers during the Chinese New Year parade descend Market Street in San Francisco.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

Muni has pledged to provide free rides until 5 a.m. Monday. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency removed fares for the Lunar New Year weekend to help get people to Chinatown attractions and spur the neighborhood’s economic recovery.

Supervisors Connie Chan, Aaron Peskin and Dean Preston have teamed up with SFMTA to roll out the free ride scheme, coupled with another visitor draw: two hours of free parking in the Portsmouth Plaza garage for the rest of February.

Standing on the cobbled brick near the First Republic bank, Marleen Luke smiled beamingly in a sequined black dress and white feather boa. She and several other women were dressed in bejeweled capes and feathered headdresses to evoke the Forbidden City nightclub in Chinatown, a popular destination in the 1940s, at the edge of the Stockton Street tunnel.

The women also wore feather dusters, an accessory they took out while performing ‘Gai Mou Sou’, the viral rap song they recorded last year to protest a wave of hate crimes against Native Americans. Asian.

“We had no idea” it would be so popular, a beaming Luke said. “We were on ‘The Steve Harvey Show.'”

A masked figure walks down Market Street during the Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco.

A masked figure walks down Market Street during the Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

Johanna Montagne of Oakland stood in a crowd of onlookers near Market and Post streets, her 2-year-old daughter, Anais, slung over her shoulder. Anaïs wore a purple qipao dress that the family had bought that day in Chinatown. Montagne, who grew up in San Francisco and attended many Chinese New Year parades, noted that it’s traditional to wear something new.

“And red for good luck,” she said, pointing to her red cotton shirt, also from a store in Chinatown. in all shapes: fluffy, feathered, bejeweled, meticulously sculpted into statues.

Many wished Saturday night’s festivities would sweep away a long period of despair. The city canceled last year’s event amid a surge in coronavirus infections, which forced the closure of schools and businesses and caused tourism to plummet in San Francisco.

Chinatown Merchants were among the hardest hit in the regionstruggling to stay afloat at a time when few people traveled to the city and locals postponed weddings, canceled banquets and ordered goods online rather than from local stores.

Tigers of all shapes and sizes, stuffed, bejeweled and carved, abounded in the Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco.

Tigers of all shapes and sizes, stuffed, bejeweled and carved, abounded in the Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

“For a while people kept asking if the parade would continue or if the street fair would be canceled,” said Anni Chung, CEO of Self-Help for the Elderly, an organization that primarily serves immigrant seniors. of Asian descent. She acknowledged that she and her staff feared the event would shut down for another year as the omicron raged through the Bay Area.

But on Saturday, the streets were bustling as Chung’s staff sat at the stand on Grant and Pacific avenues.

“We all put on our happiest faces to welcome the New Year, because it’s been a long time,” Chung said. “It’s time to overcome the pandemic, the pandemic, the pandemic.”

Rachel Swan is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @rachelswan

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