Editor’s note, February 9: Local journalist Meera Bains reports that the Spring Festival Parade committee has reversed its rejection of Chinatown Together and Queer Lunar New Year.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Chinatown’s annual Spring Festival Parade. It’s an event that holds a lot of meaning for me and my family; for many years, my father and aunts took part in the vibrant drumming and lion dancing that defines the festivities.
So I was elated when Chinatown Together, an arts organization I co-founded, was officially invited to march in this year’s parade. It was an opportunity for me to not just partake in the celebration, but to continue a family tradition and contribute to the cultural tapestry of our community in Vancouver.
But just a week before the parade (which is taking place this weekend), our invitation was rescinded by the parade organizing committee, citing “political activism.” This decision followed the rejection of another group, Queer Lunar New Year, that represents Chinatown’s queer and trans people. The rejections were a reminder of the ongoing struggle for acceptance within our own community.
The backdrop against which this unfolds is one of expedited gentrification in Chinatown, manifested in the City’s approval of a market condo tower called 105 Keefer. Chinatown Together was founded in response, driven by a mission to counter gentrification through cultural preservation.
We knew the parade organizing committee’s stance on gentrification was largely in favour, but we set aside our differences in the spirit of community and celebration. We hoped to represent inclusivity under the banner of Chinatown Together, extending an open invitation to all who wished to join us in honoring our shared cultural heritage. We started putting banners together, all of which followed the banner guidelines set by the parade committee.
Unfortunately, our efforts were later met with rejection, with the committee asserting that “political activism has no place” in the parade.
What defines “political activism” within the context of Chinatown’s rich history? The neighbourhood’s very existence is a testament to the activism of our forebears, who fought against exclusionary policies and threats to our community’s survival. Political activism is inherently the spirit of Chinatown; it’s the fire that keeps us alive. It’s yeet lau 熱鬧 (lively). Political engagement isn’t an aberration—it’s the lifeblood that sustains Chinatown’s vitality, fostering a sense of belonging for generations of immigrants and marginalized communities.
In denying spaces for cultural expression, we risk erasing the very essence of Chinatown—its resilience, its history, and the sacrifices of those who came before us. The rejection of Chinatown Together and Queer Lunar New Year from the parade isn’t just a setback. It’s a betrayal of our community’s values and legacy.
Chinatown Together remains undeterred, though. In just seven months, we’ve organized over 18 intergenerational cultural events, united by a commitment to accessibility and inclusivity. If an emerging group like ours can foster meaningful community engagement, surely the established parade organizers can do the same.
To exclude us is to perpetuate the same oppressive tactics our community has long fought against. It’s time for Chinatown to embrace its diversity and confront the uncomfortable truths that lie beneath the surface. Only then can we truly honor the legacy of our ancestors and build a future that is welcoming and inclusive for everyone.
Galina Lee is the co-founder of Chinatown Together.