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Boston's Chinatown hopes for a more prosperous New Year

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The Chinatown Gate in Boston, photographed in 2021. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
The Chinatown Gate in Boston, photographed in 2021. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

For the third straight year, the Lunar New Year that begins Tuesday will be celebrated under the cloud of COVID. But many residents and workers in Boston's Chinatown are hoping the Year of the Tiger will usher in prosperity and other welcome changes.

"The Year of the Tiger is ... supposedly a strong year," said Suzanne Lee, who founded the Chinese Progressive Association, a group that advocates for workers and residents.

The Chinese connection to Lunar New Year might be the best known, but the holiday is also celebrated by Vietnamese, Koreans and some other Asian communities around the world.

There are lots of traditional symbols for the hope that comes with a new year: bright flowers to represent happiness, oranges for luck and bamboo for sturdiness and strength.

Red cards to celebrate Lunar New Year, photographed in 2021. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Red envelopes to celebrate Lunar New Year, photographed in 2021. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

People living and working in Chinatown have needed that strength the last few years. The neighborhood was among the first to be touched by the pandemic, as it became an early target of racism and suspicion as news of a strange new virus emerged in China at the start of 2020.

Many restaurants and other local businesses, who were already struggling to deal with rising rents, had to fight to survive the last two years.

That’s the case for hair stylist Wilson Chen, who owns A Salon on Tyler Street. What does he hope for the new year?

"I hope I can be hopeful," he said in Taishanese through a translator. He said it doesn’t seem like anyone knows what the future will hold.

There’s a lot at stake for him. Chinatown is the only home he’s known since he came to the United States 15 years ago. This is where his work is, but also his community.

Chinese newspapers say it's a good for people born in the Year of the Tiger to invest. Lee, who founded the Chinese Progressive Association, is one of many millions of people born in a previous tiger year.

She says she doesn't personally have anything to invest, but hopes it might also mean it's a good time for the government or others to invest in Chinatown.

There have already been positive signs as people prepared for the Lunar New Year last week. Flower and food vendors were busy at a holiday market on Washington Street in Boston, for instance.

The same Chinatown market was dark last year because of COVID. But Chinatown Main Street executive director Debbie Ho says the neighborhood wasn’t the same without it.

“I decided we gotta do something," she said. "We gotta bring it back."

And Ho is hopeful for the year ahead.

“There’s always hope," she says. Besides, she adds: "Nobody wants to sulk and say ... everything bad is going to happen."

This year, she said she hopes for "happiness, wealth and health."

That’s something people beyond Chinatown can hope for 2022 as well.

This segment aired on February 1, 2022.

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Ally Jarmanning Twitter Senior Reporter
Ally is a senior reporter focused on criminal justice and police accountability.

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