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HOPEWELL: Chinese culture takes center stage at library
Sounds from an ancient Chinese musical instrument known as a pipa recently reverberated off the book-lined walls of the Hopewell Valley Library, as members of the local Asian-American community gathered to celebrate a new year while sharing their language and culture with the general public.
For Dr. Gloria Yifeng Hu, director and coordinator of a Lunar New Year concert at Hopewell Valley Branch Library on Saturday, Feb. 11, it’s the music, language and culture of a people that allows them to connect to the world around them.
“By using music, we can bring people together,” said Hu, a communications professor at The College of New Jersey. “You don’t have to cross the barrier of language to understand – you can feel the culture. Music brings joy.”
Touted as the first event of its kind for the Hopewell Valley, the Lunar New Year concert and art show celebrated the holiday traditionally observed in China, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and other Asian countries.
According to Hu, the main theme behind Lunar New Year and the concert event was “reunion,” which he said reaches beyond the congregation of family into the congregation of diversity.
“I want to show the people outside the Chinese community … that we appreciate what the community has to offer and we can give back,” he said. “We can devote our time, our talents and our passions and make the community better. We are a part of it and that is very important, especially now in this day and age.”
Themes of togetherness and sharing were emphasized from the Lunar New Year concert’s inception.
“Hopewell is our home,” Hu said in her opening speech. “We believe that diversity and inclusion make Hopewell a fun, dynamic and vibrant place to live, work and play.”
For two hours, performers of all ages played traditional folk songs honoring the New Year and Asian culture. The concert also featured solo acts, as well as pieces by the Flowers and the Youth Ensemble, Pennington Chinese Instrument Ensemble, Zizhu Ensemble and Xinghai Ensemble.
Youth Services Librarian and Hopewell resident Briana Cahill said the Saturday event managed to draw people to the library who normally would not spend their afternoons there.
And though she recognized some of the younger performers as regular patrons at the library, Cahill said she got to see them in a new light.
“To see them perform in these songs and playing instruments that I didn’t even know they could play – it was really wonderful,” she. “For me, it was great to see all the creativity, all the talent, and the poise.”
Following the success of a holiday-themed December performance by Hu’s Flowers and the Youth Ensemble at the Hopewell Valley Branch Library, the professor and the library decided to extend their collaboration.
“That just got the two of us talking about how we could do something for the Lunar New Year and how that would be a great chance to bring in all these different groups into the library and for the community to see the diversity and musical abilities of its community members,” Cahill said.
Traditionally, the Lunar New Year celebrates the reunion of family and friends. For Hu, this year’s concert was about giving people of different backgrounds to engage in “learning and enjoying the experience – the differences and the diversity.
“I want their kids to grow up having a broader perspective. A global mindset,” she said.
West Windsor resident Emma Kim said the traditional Chinese and Korean folk and pop songs resonated with her and her child.
“One of the reasons I want to participate here is to teach my kid,” she said. “He was born here and raised here. He doesn’t know much about the tradition I know. I want to have a connection with my kid about Korea.”
As a Korean-American, Kim said the Chinese song “Little White Boat” and the Korean songs “Half Moon” and “Magpie’s New Year Day” reminded her of her own family traditions celebrating the Korean New Year, also known as “Wondan.”
While Kim noted that most of the songs performed were Chinese and she was not familiar with the tunes, she said the songs’ themes transcend national and ethnic boundaries.
“We can understand each other’s traditions at an event like this,” Kim said.
Dr. Guy Nee, who has lived and practiced medicine in Hopewell for over twenty-five years, said the ability to participate in another culture’s celebration can be a powerful way of appreciating each other’s heritage.
“We can read about it, we can study about it, but it’s not until you actually witness it and have this kind of interaction and culture exchanges that we understand each other more,” he said.
As observers, both Kim and Nee hoped that more cultural opportunities continue in the Hopewell Valley community.
“I think what makes this country so great is its diversity,” Nee said. “Its uniqueness and diversity in each culture. The more we learn about each other’s cultures the better we are as Americans.”