San Francisco’s Chinese Lunar New Year parade attracts tens of thousands of people, and over three million tune in on television and digital platforms around the world.
But for a long time Chinese immigrants and the parade were not as welcome. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, barring Chinese who were already in the country from becoming citizens. When the Exclusion Act was renewed in 1892, Congress required all Chinese-Americans to carry photo ID at all times or risk arrest and deportation.
They were prevented from living or working outside the Chinatown neighborhood, and they faced attacks, blame, and decades of exclusion before the Civil Rights Era of the 1950’s and 60’s.
San Francisco’s Chinese New Year had humble beginnings. It was a simple procession where Chinese residents would walk the streets collecting donations for charity. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the simple processions began to morph into the Chinese-American display that we know today.
After President Lyndon Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, new waves of Chinese immigrants were allowed into the United States -- adding new diversity to the nation's melting pot.
"The parade is a manifestation of the community's desire to be part of American society, and to be proud of Chinese heritage and history,” Chinese Historical Society Executive Director Sue Lee told San Francisco’s KTVU FOX 2.
The great spectacle of San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade is an example of what can happen when cultures come together rather than exclude.
“The parade is always a new beginning, as with the New Year's. Our New Year's for our culture, is rebirth, a new beginning, and so there's always hope, there’s always good luck, auspiciousness, the best for the community, another year another chance," said former parade director David Lei.
As the country evolved, the parade evolved too. It now features American style marching bands and Boy Scout troops along with the dancing lions and dragons.
It may be a Chinese New Year celebration, but the parade is just as much a celebration of America and its diversity.
Watch the video to see what makes this parade and America so great.