Asian politics surface in lunar new year parade

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For the last five years, two independent committees have variously organized the festival and parade, usually held in late January, which has historically attracted tens of thousand of people.

Both committees agree that the parade should foster inclusiveness among all Asian Americans who celebrate the Lunar new year. And even though both have filed separate requests for a parade permit, neither group is opposed to joining the other, should it have to.

Yet, paradoxically, the two groups have continued to remain at loggerheads with each other as each seeks to be endowed officially with the title of parade organizer.

On another level, though, the 5-year-old festival opens up a window into the political differences between Chinese and Taiwanese that date back nearly 50 years.

Over the past three weeks, the two groups, whose committee names are almost identical, have staged a series of dueling news conferences. First there was one in late November held by the 2000 Lunar New Year Festival Committee, a group of mostly Taiwanese-Americans that has organized the parade on and off since 1995. Adrian Joyce, the chairman of Community Board 7, which covers Flushing, and the committee announced that they had filed a request for a parade permit and would soon begin to work out the details of the festival.

Nearly two weeks later, a second committee which claims to have organized the parade both in 1998 and 1999 held a separate news conference, calling for Joyce's resignation. Insisting that they were the rightful parade organizers, the members of this group, the Lunar New Year Festival Committee, accused Joyce of being insensitive to the Asian-American community and charged that he had cavalierly appointed the committee he wanted to see organize the parade.

Joyce has said neither he nor the community board plays a direct role in the parade, beyond ensuring that the route through downtown Flushing is closed to traffic and handling administrative matters, such as the filing of a parade permit.

In 1998, Korean-Americans marched for the first time en masse in the parade, the same year that the Lunar New Year Festival Committee, a group of Korean-, Chinese- and Taiwanese-Americans, first oversaw the celebration. The organizers also agreed to drop "Chinese" from the festival name in an effort to engender more inclusiveness.

But some of the angst in the planning of the annual parade stems from a changing Chinese community, said an observer familiar with Chinese politics.       The story begins in the 1980s, when an influx of immigrants from Taiwan settled in Flushing, opening up businesses and revitalizing the community. Over the last decade, though, the demographics of this community has changed, with many more immigrants arriving from mainland China than previously before.

It is this increased diversity, the observer said, that has brought into focus the tensions between China, a communist state, and Taiwan, a democracy. The Lunar New Year Festival in Flushing is one symbolic event where these tensions have become ever more taut, the observer said. Yet Korean-Americans by and large have remained above the fray.

Not surprisingly, the after-effects of the civil war fought between the Chinese nationalists and communists 50 years ago still ripples through both mainland China and Taiwan. Further, it is equally felt within the Chinese enclaves of the United States, such as Flushing, where the two groups co-exist.

In the Taiwan of today, four political factions are divided by the question of whether there should in fact be "one China," a question that dates back to the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek, the nationalist leader, who fled from the communists to Taiwan in 1950. Two of theses groups support the taking back of China from communism, while the other two contend that Taiwan should remain sovereign.

Dignitaries from at least three of these groups as well as from mainland China had shown up at last year's festival. This had never happened before, said Fred Fu, the chairman of this year's Lunar New Year Festival, leaving last year's organizers to ponder one potentially flammable question: Who gets to march where and with whom?

Regardless of how the dignitaries marched, the organizers were concerned that their actions could have been interpreted as a statement of their politics. Despite the initial awkwardness, though, the parade last year went well, Fu said. In the end, he said, the dignitaries at times marched side by side, with one or the other occasionally jetting out in front. Their moves, he said, did not appear to be politically calculated.

But this year, both committees said, the foremost objective is to quash any possible political skirmishes beforehand. Their solution: Don't invite the dignitaries.

"As far as I'm concerned, Taiwan and China are one," said Michael Chu, a member of the Lunar New Year Festival Committee, who is a native of Taiwan. "We don't want to insist on two exclusive groups. We are trying to make this celebration non-political, a cultural celebration."

Fu, who is also the president of the Flushing Chinese Business Association, agreed. "We'll try to get rid of the politics to make it easy," he said.

Fu would not say whether his group would support the official flying of the Taiwanese and Chinese flags, as has been done in past years, but Chu, the committee member from the other festival group, said that his group would not.

- Sherry Sung contributed to this article.

Posted 7:16 pm, October 10, 2011
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