Lunar New Year rings in, but California shooting mars celebrations in Detroit

Myesha Johnson
The Detroit News

Detroit― Red and gold dragons danced along the Detroit riverfront with Taiwanese performers Sunday afternoon to herald in the Lunar New Year, though a mass shooting at another celebration Sunday in California cast a shadow over the events and drew a quick response from local legislators in the Asian American Legislative Caucus.

The Michigan Taiwanese American Organization with the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy coordinated the celebration of the Year of the Rabbit at Valade Park with cultural performances and a volunteer dressed in a rabbit costume that hugged and greeted guests. The rabbit symbolizes happiness, prosperity and luck.

The event came after a gunman killed 10 people at a ballroom dance studio during a Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park in California, authorities said. About 20 to 30 minutes later, a man with a gun entered the Lai Lai Ballroom in nearby Alhambra but then fled. A man suspected in the shooting later was found dead of a gunshot wound in a white van about 22 miles from the attack, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

Some of the members of the Michigan Lion Dance Team move through the crowd during festivities for the Lunar New Year Celebration at Valade Park in Detroit, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023.

The riverfront event in Detroit drew a crowd, some of whom acknowledged the shooting. Sunday's event had a red and gold theme, and the riverfront featured hand-crafted floral decorations, and red-and-white lion and dragon puppets, which many children could take home.

Elizabeth Isakson-Dado of Berkley came because her daughter, Beatrix, 5, saw the event advertised on TV and convinced her to bring her to the riverfront for the celebration.

"She immediately saw some dancing, got a rad tassel for good luck, and then we ... hugged the rabbit," said Isakson-Dado. "We used to live in Chicago near Chinatown, so there were a love of small events like this, so it makes me feel a little more at home too."

Zara Peterson, 9, and her brother, Zane Peterson, 5, of Ferndale stand next to a dragon decoration and pose for photos for their family during festivities for the Lunar New Year celebration at Valade Park in Detroit on Sunday.

Second and third generation Taiwanese students performed a lion dance, where performers used poles to rhythmically move a red-and-gold dragon prop while students beat cymbals and drums.

Theresa Chang, the president of Michigan Taiwanese American Organization and the event's coordinator, gave a red envelope with a dollar bill inside to a guest, upholding another Lunar New Year tradition.

"We want to show the Lunar New Year to our Detroit community. It's very significant to promote DEI," Chang said, referring to diversity, equity and inclusion. "The Lunar New Year is so important around the world and in the Asian community, so by recognizing and having an event here locally it is truly representing our communities that also want to join us to celebrate together."

The Michigan Lion Dance Team perform for the crowd Sunday.

This is the second time the Taiwanese organization hosted an event celebrating the Chinese New Year. Chang said volunteers spent over 500 hours to prepare for the event, which catered to more than 1,000 participants.

Sen. Stephanie Chang, who is Taiwanese American and represents Michigan's State Senate District 3, was at the celebration that inevitably was marred by the shooting.

"Some of us our still processing the Monterey Park shooting that happened, so I think it's important for us to continue to come together, continue to celebrate, and not be afraid," Chang said.

Members of Michigan Formosa Association of Student Cultural Ambassadors perform a dragon dance at the Lunar New Year celebrations Sunday.

Later, Chang, Sen. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, and Rep. Ranjeev Puri, D-Canton Township, issued a statement as members of the Asian Pacific American Legislative Caucus.

“At a time when we are supposed to be focused on the sharing of joy and celebration with many of our fellow Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, we instead face today with the shock and pain over another tragedy. Our hearts go out to the community in Monterey Park and everyone around the country celebrating Lunar New Year that is terrified by this news.  

“This new year has sadly already been tainted by the same problems that have continually been plaguing our state and our country: brutal and senseless violence at the hands of a mass shooter. We have to put a stop to this ever-growing list of lives lost to mass shootings and gun violence, and these issues need to be prioritized for policy action in our state and around the country.

Makyla Brise and Malik Taylor, both of Detroit, roast marshmallows during festivities for the Lunar New Year celebration Sunday.

“While the suspect has not been apprehended and the exact motives are still unknown for this attack, the devastation and fear are certainly being felt by the AAPI community, which has experienced increased violence in recent years.

"However, the AAPI community is strong and resilient. We will band together as a community and counter violence with peace, fear with hope, hate with love, and inaction with long-needed change."