Lunar New Year festival sparks reawakening in Seattle's International District

The Year of the Tiger brought hundreds of people together in Seattle's Chinatown-International District. The community celebrated a festival recognizing the Lunar New Year on Saturday.

"Today’s celebration is kind of a reawakening for a lot of communities," said David Leong, owner of Northwest Kung Fu and Fitness School.

The Lunar New Year Festival was the first big event in the CID since pre-COVID-19. The festival was delayed from earlier this year because the number of positive cases was high. As the crowd grew at Saturday event, people weren’t just celebrating the new year, but also being amongst community and helping bring the neighborhood back to life. 

"I can feel the energy of everyone just kind of revitalizing the area once again. And it feels like everyone is just in this together, and they’re moving forward and trying to past what we’ve been going through," said Cal, who attended the festival in cosplay with friends.

"COVID has been really hard with our kids. Just being in a sense of community and being around their own age and people in general. So, having him to see so many people, somewhat normal again, is new for him," said Icha Stephanie, who attended the event with her family.

February 1 marked the Lunar New Year for 2022. Traditionally, the holiday is celebrated for 16 days.

The event showcased a parade, martial arts demonstrations, food, music and vendors. The successful turnout was welcomed after a challenging couple of years for the International District.

The COVID-19 outbreak sparked hate against the Asian community. It affected tourism in the area, and even forced some businesses to shut down. Many people who work and live in the historic neighborhood were unsure of their future.

"[There was] a period of time where we really couldn’t do anything. There was such uncertainty. Every time you walked out of your door, it’s uncertain. You have a business—you don’t know what the day is going to be like. So, all that we had control of was to open the doors and closing doors at night, going home after work," said Leong.

Crime, violence and graffiti also overwhelmed the district—issues the area is still trying to overcome. Just last Wednesday, a man was shot and killed in the CID. It’s unusual activity for a community that has been in that part of Seattle for generations.

"It was just a culmination of negative energy that made everything all kind of pile on top of each other. So, it’s going to take some time for that to unravel," said Leong. "Nothing gets done, fixed or improved overnight. It takes time."

Judging by the amount of festival attendees, it seems like time is something people are willing to spend to help revitalize the CID and celebrate what makes that neighborhood a cultural intersection of the city.

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"We want Seattle to come back to be the great city that it is and will become again very soon. And we’re making good headway today," said Leong. "The people smiling, the kids, the young, the old, people from all backgrounds—this is what community is about."