McALLEN — The hallway of the International Museum of Art & Science was embellished with Asian ornaments and detailed scrolls of scriptures on Saturday.
Red lanterns and glittering fish were taped to the walls, and paper national flags hung in front of exhibits, showing attendees what country they were about to step into — the Science on a Sphere room hosted Korean music and origami lessons, Taiwanese calligraphy was held in the art studio and China took over the Discovery Pavilion, featuring fan painting and traditional Chinese games for children.
Here, locals of all ages and nationalities were celebrating the seventh annual Lunar New Year Festival at the IMAS, a national holiday of many Asian countries.
Xin Zhang, a Chinese professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, reminisced about how her hometown, Qingdao, China, commemorated the holiday.
“This is the biggest festival in China, it is like Christmas here,” said Zhang, who has attended the past five festivals at IMAS. “Right now at home, women are cleaning their whole houses and buying new decorations. The streets are full of traditional dragon and lion dances with many lanterns hanging everywhere.”
New Year festivities begin with the first new moon of the lunar calendar and end on the first full moon, which happens 15 days after. For 2019, the Lunar New Year starts on Feb. 5.
“This is the time when seniors and parents will call their children to come back home,” said Zhang, who immigrated to the United States in 2013. “Starting on the 5th, we will celebrate the end, the harvest. It is similar to Thanksgiving, all the hard work and successes is the harvest of the year.”
Zhang was the coordinator of the traditional Chinese lion dance that took place in the hallway of the museum. Two performers controlled the movements of a shimmering golden lion, with orange flames around its nose and head. The lion’s features flared as dancers moved to the beat of clashing symbols.
The lion symbolizes strength and bravery, and the dance is performed to bring prosperity and good luck to the upcoming year.
UTRGV Korean language lecturer Mijin Oh-Villarreal manned a Korean musical instrument booth with two of her students. There, guests were able to test out the four samulnori instruments, each of which represent an element of nature: jing which symbolizes wind, kkwaenggwari, which represents thunder, buk, which represents clouds and janggu, rain.
After the lion dance, Oh-Villarreal and six of her students performed a Samulnori dance, which translates to “a four musical instrument play.” Samulnori folk music was traditionally performed in rice-farming villages in Korea to assure good harvests, and is now a dance of fortune and joy.
Oh-Villarreal said she enjoys playing traditional Korean music for her students and is glad that this time, they will be performing with her.
“Whenever I play the instruments for my students and perform Korean music, I see their eyes get wide and they start to take a video right away,” said Oh-Villarreal, who is going onto her third year as a lecturer. “They were excited to learn and I feel very proud of my students. They love to join these performances. They invite their families and friends because they are proud of themselves, and I tell them “yes, you should be proud of.’”
She donned the nongak bok costume, the traditional outfit of Samulnori performers – a white long-sleeve shirt with a blue, red and yellow vest on top, and a multi-colored gokkal moja, which translates to “triangle shaped hat.”
Attendees had the opportunity to have their name translated to Korean, Taiwanese and Chinese characters, and paint Korean “tal” masks, which symbolize freedom.
Cassandra Ponce, a junior at UTRGV who is taking Oh-Villarreal’s Beginning Korean course said said that though she is only a few weeks into the semester, she understands the importance of availing yourself to learning about other cultures.
“As a Latina, I would want other people to know about my culture and its history,” said Ponce, who is majoring in education. “It is so important to be open to learn about cultures other than your own, because you will be more open-minded and be able to make connections between the others.”