My Asian American Perspective: Please stop wishing me a ‘Happy Chinese New Year’

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Dancers perform traditional lion and dragon dances at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino to celebrate the Lunar New Year, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, in Las Vegas. In recent years, the holiday, which people are ringing in Tuesday, has achieved all-American status. Big companies are celebrating – and capitalizing – on a holiday that is about being with loved ones and wishing for prosperity and good luck. (AP Photo/John Locher)

You wouldn’t say “Happy Chinese New Year” to people in Vietnam, would you? It just wouldn’t make sense. So, why is it okay in your mind to wish me a “Happy Chinese New Year?”

I believe that when others wish me a “Happy Chinese New Year,” their intention is not to be malicious. They truly do want to wish me well, even if they may not celebrate the holiday.

What is hard for me to comprehend is that those who are wishing me well for the new year automatically assume that I am Chinese because of how I look. I’m actually Vietnamese, if you don’t already know from reading my column thus far (if this is your first time reading my column, welcome).

I can only categorize this under the label of “all Asians look the same” so they would celebrate the same holidays in the same ways and eat all the same foods. This is a gross understatement to all the complexities of Asian cultures, speaking specifically towards East Asians.

I remember really noticing this in middle school when I would tell people I was celebrating Lunar New Year. I had people smile at me, looking slightly confused and even wishing me a “Happy CHINESE New Year” with an emphasis on the Chinese because apparently I wasn’t aware that I was mislabeling my own cultural holiday. I tried to explain to others that I celebrated “Tet” or the Lunar New Year, and how fun it was to eat with family and get lucky red envelopes. The emphasis was being with family most of all, which was the most special part of the new year.

I felt belittled when people wish me a “Happy Chinese New Year,” especially people that I had told in the past that I was in fact Vietnamese. It made me question whether they truly respected me as a person or even knew who I was. When I would tell my parents what happened, they would suggest that I correct people and explain how I celebrate Tet.

The older I got, the more annoyed and angry I became about these ignorant well wishes. For me, I would personally just wish those that celebrated a happy new year. It sent the same well wishes of health and happiness to the receiver and the genuineness is the same.

I’ve grown tired of correcting strangers especially who wish me a Happy Chinese New Year in passing. I want to educate, but it goes far deeper in that I would have to show these well wishers their inherent racism, whether they know it or not. That’s not a confrontation I want to have at the moment.

I implore those reading this column to do a quick Google search. All one has to do is look up “countries that celebrate Lunar New Year” and it takes a bit of digging to find that other countries such as South Korea and Vietnam, surprise, also celebrate the new year.

Google, one of the alternative names you have labeled for “Chinese New Year” is Spring Festival. Maybe you should consider using that instead.

If you want to be more specific, calling it the Lunar New Year also encompasses all countries that follow the moon calendar and are celebrating. To be more educated on the new year, simply wish someone a happy new year and then proceed to ask how they celebrate. Not only will you learn something new, someone responding to the question will appreciate that you are taking the time to learn.

I wish everyone reading a Happy Lunar New Year. It’s the year of the pig, the last of the 12-year cycle of animals. I will be enjoying banh tet, a Vietnamese cake that can be sweet or savory, as my family and I welcome the new year.


Kimberly Nguyen is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.nguyen@uconn.edu.

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