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Jacksonville ready for virtual Chinese New Year celebration

Virtual festivities don’t just bring Chinese New Year to the region. The “Year of the Ox” celebration takes Southern Oregon “out into the world.”

That’s the view of event organizers for Southern Oregon Chinese Cultural Association, which typically stages a full day of activities, commencing with a parade through Jacksonville to commemorate Lunar New Year. But as the nonprofit group, like so many others, wrestled last year with the pandemic’s restrictions on community gatherings, a new model emerged to fete Asia’s most important holiday.

“I actually like the virtual format quite a bit,” says SOCCA board member Jeresa Hren.

Hren planned the majority of programming for SOCCA’s online Year of the Ox, featured from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at socca.us. All entertainment, demonstrations and educational lectures are free, but registration is required for live presentations by the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, as well as a discussion with local historical archaeologist Chelsea Rose and an interactive magic performance by San Francisco Bay Area showman Perry Yan.

“It seems like it kind of grew organically,” says SOCCA board member Debra Lee. “There were a lot more young people getting involved.”

Among them are the creators of a children’s puppet show, one of the “instant access” programs that were prerecorded but will be posted Saturday at www.socca.us and available throughout the day. Registration is not required for these “on demand” highlights.

Viewers can follow along with a demonstration of the ancient Chinese healing arts of tai chi and qigong, then whet their appetites with a culinary exhibition of “easy peezy” baby back ribs.

“It’s actually very, very Chinese,” says Hren of the recipe devised by her longtime friend Charleen Wong, originally from Taiwan but now a resident of Atlanta. According to Chinese cooking tradition, ribs are chopped into bite-sized pieces and seasoned with black vinegar, says Hren. But the simple dish that Wong prepares in five steps relies on balsamic vinegar, she says.

Also online is the event’s welcome from grand marshal Jim Lewis, longtime Jacksonville City councilman, with wife Gayle. A look at Lunar New Year in Vietnam complements a montage of local celebrations over the years while a virtual “tour” of Chinese history around Jacksonville is the tangible legacy of Chinese immigrants to the American West who came “In Search of Gold Mountain.”

The celebration’s biggest star, a 61-foot dragon puppet, went back into hibernation with the cancellation of this year’s parade. But fans can catch a glimpse of “The Mighty One,” a gift from Oakland’s Chinese American Community Foundation, in a documentary on the SOCCA website.

The beast that looms largest in 2021, however, is the Chinese zodiac’s second animal. Steady, calm and hard-working, the ox is a perennially positive figure in Asian culture, art, literature and lore. Additionally, this is the year of the Metal Ox, corresponding with one of the five Chinese elements. Also known as the “golden ox,” the symbol portends a year of peace, prosperity and success.

Citing the success of other virtual community events, including September’s Greater Medford Multicultural Fair, Lee says Chinese New Year “closes up the distance that everyone feels” during the coronavirus pandemic in favor of celebrating diversity. This year, several groups within the community stepped up and submitted videos, and key sponsors have continued their support, says Lee. Approximately 2,000 people annually have participated in previous years’ festivities, she adds.

“Going forward, we might have a hybrid,” says Hren, explaining that the “instant access” programs will remain on the SOCCA website for much of the year, a concept that can augment future celebrations.

“We’ll see what happens next year.”

SOCCA did not set a limit on participants in the live events, which are hosted via Zoom, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Saturday with the Asian Art Museum’s overview of Lunar New Year. Rose, representing Southern Oregon University’s Laboratory of Anthropology, hosts her meeting at 11 a.m., followed at 12:30 p.m. by the Asian Art Museum’s look at hidden meanings in Chinese art and concluding at 2 p.m. with Yan’s show. Register at socca.us

San Francisco Bay Area showman Perry Yan, will perform an interactive magic show on Saturday, Feb. 13. Photo via www.pymagic.com.
Fans can catch a glimpse of “The Mighty One,” a 61-foot dragon puppet that was a gift from Oakland’s Chinese American Community Foundation, in a documentary on the SOCCA website. MT file photo