I asked the team behind it all to tell me more, and here's what they had to say...
Linda Lim, Steph Tims and Rita Tom (left to right) have been the driving force behind Wellington’s Chinese New Year Festival since it’s inception in 2002. As they get down to the business of end of preparation for celebrations to welcome in the Year of the Rooster, Linda took time out to give an account of how it all started and what inspires them to keep doing this (and all in their own time) after 16 years.
“Stepping onto a home-made go-kart that has transformed into a modern-day speeding bullet train” best describes our involvement with the Wellington Chinese New Year Festival. When we first climbed on board, 16 years ago in 2002, little did we know where the journey would take us and the amazing and totally unexpected rewards we would get along the way.
It all started with three mums who shared a vision. Wouldn’t it be cool if our kids could experience and be part of a Chinese New Year celebration? Chinese New Year was not something that we celebrated growing up in Wellington, so when we all had children of our own, we wanted them to learn about their Chinese heritage and to be proud of being Chinese. What better way for them to do this than to be involved in a celebration of the Chinese New Year. With the emergence of other cultural festivals in Wellington at that time, it felt right to have a Chinese New Year festival in the city.
So we decided to just do it; we put together a ‘go-kart’ that was a short parade and cultural entertainment programme. The City Council issued the go-kart a Warrant of Fitness; we said ‘All Aboard’, and launched it down Courtenay Place, Wellington in February 2002. The response was amazing!
The excited faces of young children was wonderful, but the most satisfying thing was the pride that we saw in the faces of older Chinese, like our parents, who came out to share in the celebrations. Traditionally they kept their culture to themselves so it was very special to see many of them out there sharing in the celebrations; to see the pride they felt in having a Festival take place in a country they had made their home.
We realised this was not something that we could do just for our children. It was also for our parents, grandparents, and anybody in the wider community interested in experiencing our culture, because the way to keep a minority culture alive is to share it with others outside of one’s own group.
Well, in the blink of an eye, our homemade go-kart became a speeding bullet train and today the carriages are jam packed with Chinese and non-Chinese. No other centre in the country celebrates Chinese New Year in the way that we do. It’s a Festival that fits with Wellington’s reputation of being the coolest little capital in the world, an event that remains true to Chinese traditions and the Chinese culture, but developed with a “kiwi” flavour, with a programme that is founded on principles of diversity and inclusiveness.
The Festival has paved the way to integrating our culture with the wider Wellington community, sharing rich and sometimes strange customs, and bringing to the city some of the colour and vibrancy that is Chinese while creating opportunities for groups to share their perspective of the Chinese culture; to engage audiences and provide them with enriching experiences.
The rewards we have got from our ‘train’ journey have been amazing. We started with a simple goal and out of that came a Festival, which is now firmly entrenched in the city's events calendar for all Wellingtonians. Who knows where this speeding bullet train is going to take us – but one thing is for sure it doesn’t look like we are getting off it anytime soon!