Story 10: Cultural Learning - Two Models

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Community Engagement through Chinese Festivals

Written by Leslie Swartz

In the late 1970s, the Chinese American population of Boston was small and fairly isolated. Images of Chinese Americans came from Chinatown but many non-Chinese were unsure if they were welcome there, even in the restaurants that were clearly designed to attract non-Chinese. There was little local recognition of Chinese New Year and if people did know about the festivities, they did not know if outsiders were welcome to join in. In 1978, while working with the Greater Boston Chinese Cultural Association, TCM held its first Chinese New Year celebration, which has since blossomed into a museum-wide celebration that engages the Chinese American community. The museum's Chinese New Year celebrations were examples of its intermediary role in action. The museum helped to create a welcoming environment and multiple opportunities in which Chinese and Chinese Americans could come to the museum to share their cultures. As the Chinese American community in Greater Boston expanded, so did the audience for Chinese New Year. Initially, the audience was largely non-Chinese interested in learning about a foreign culture. Some thirty years later, nearly a third of the audience is Chinese American, reflecting the growth of the population as well as its temporal distance from immigration. Second-, third- and fourth-generation families now participate in The Children's Museum's Chinese New Year to give their young children a Chinese cultural experience. Culture evolves; in the dead of a Boston winter, this Americanized celebration of Chinese New Year gained authenticity in collaboration with many community performers and partners. "Ownership" of a cultural festival might be shared, and this lesson extended to an entirely original transplant to Boston—the Dragon Boat Festival.

Next: The Dragon Boat Festival