A year ago the circular tables of the Porter dining hall at UC Santa Cruz were piled high with food, the room transformed with red streamers and decorations, and the stage hopped with student performers. This year the cafeteria tables continued to collect dust and the stage remained empty as the UCSC Chinese Student Association’s (CSA) Lunar New Year celebrations moved virtual with over 100 attendees watching the banquet live on YouTube. 

The Lunar New Year falls on the second new moon of the winter solstice – this year beginning on Feb. 12, with celebrations lasting fifteen days. The holiday is celebrated with family, eating food and welcoming in a year of good luck and prosperity. This year welcomed the year of the Ox.

With two exuberant hosts dressed in animal onesies and a fashion show edited entirely through TikTok, CSA brought together every technological trend used during the pandemic to create the 35th annual Lunar New Year banquet.

“Just being able to showcase how far our organization has been going on, that’s a pretty big milestone in and of itself,” said UCSC third-year and banquet coordinator Raymond Lee. “Being able to showcase that to the internet is kind of cool, especially since we took this as an opportunity to branch out rather than focusing on an in-person banquet.”

Lee is one of two CSA banquet coordinators alongside second-year Gloria Qiu. Lee said that the event is a perfect platform to promote CSA at UCSC and to launch their new website. Qiu and Lee began planning the banquet about five months ago and have been working tirelessly over the past few weeks to ensure the event ran smoothly.

The CSA club at UCSC was founded in 1986 in order to provide Chinese-American students with a safe community to celebrate Chinese culture with, through events like the Lunar New Year banquet. Despite being online, the goal of the banquet did not change, celebrating Asian-American heritage and culture in festivities hosted by Asian-Americans.

The two-hour event included a surprise video message from Santa Cruz Warriors player Jeremy Lin, who wished everyone a happy new year. In between the hip hop and traditional dance routines and skits, event hosts and CSA members Tony Lei and Wen Liu introduced performances and entertained the audience by fielding live questions, giving away prizes, and telling lots of jokes. 

The main skit of the event was inspired by the classical Chinese story that dates back to the 1500s, Journey to the West, with a Santa Cruz twist filmed in both the woods of College Nine and on Zoom. The original story follows the journey of Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy to India to obtain sacred Buddhist texts. The CSA version of the skit had the three characters help a UCSC student on his journey to make new friends on Zoom. 

Through the years, skits and fashion shows have become a staple of this event, bringing in all CSA members to participate.

“I want to encourage people to volunteer and do stuff, to be a part of it and help out but I feel bad because some people live far away and want to be in it,” said CSA skit lead and UCSC third-year Brian Liu during a behind-the-scenes clip during the banquet. “I try my best to, whenever I write up the skit, to make something that they could be a part of, even if they’re far away.” 

Fashion Show – CSA Lunar New Year Banquet 2021.” Courtesy of CSA at UCSC.

The fashion show leads Angela Hong and Shannon Young began the show in side-by-side videos recreating the popular TikTok dance to Yo Gotti and Nicki Minaj’s ‘Rake It Up.’ Hong and Young began the video dancing in qipao dresses, one long and dark blue and the other short and white with purple stitching. 

The traditional Chinese dresses are fitted with side slits and slightly raised collars. Both dancers used popular TikTok transitions to reveal more than one outfit — one featured a brown crew neck paired with a short black skirt and sporting black platform sneakers. 

In lieu of an admissions fee this year, CSA requested that attendees donate money to the Chinatown Community Development Center. The San Francisco Chinatown-based nonprofit supports small businesses and manages affordable housing for community members. The event highlighted its “Feed and Fuel Chinatown” program with a short video showing how the development center has helped get small restaurants back on their feet feeding San Francisco residents since March 2020.

“We think that is especially important this year because of the pandemic and we are, as the API [Asian and Pacific Islander] community has been hit especially hard since the beginning of it,” Qiu said. “We’re trying to address the people to make it be known that we are a community that is struggling, especially during this time, and we want to give back to this population of people.”

According to PBS, small businesses are struggling and the Asian American community is especially impacted by this. In December 2020 there was a 26 percent decline in Asian American business owner activity, compared to a 22 percent general decline. 

Throughout the YouTube livestream the comment section was filled with attendees’ encouragement and excitement for their peers performances on the screen. The combination of lighthearted skits, member art submissions, and live banter created a sense of community despite the separation.

“Themes of unity and togetherness are usually expressed during the Lunar New Year, it’s usually a time where family and friends come together and celebrate,” said Qiu before Saturday’s banquet. “We know that is hard, especially during this time, we have to adhere to the COVID safety regulations. So we just want to have this live stream to foster those same feelings of togetherness and solidarity that we would have in person.”

For more information about UCSC CSA and the banquet you can visit their brand new website here.