Yue Li was supposed to be back in her hometown, Shanxi, a northern province in China, by this time to celebrate Lunar New Year with her family.
But because of the rapidly-spreading Wuhan coronavirus, which Chinese officials temporarily named Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia (NCP), Li’s flight home was cancelled. She instead commemorated the new year by singing a duet with her son at the International Museum of Art & Science in McAllen on Saturday.
Solemnly, Li performed a selection of traditional Chinese folk songs to attendees of the eighth annual Lunar New Year Festival there, with her son, Louis Liu, accompanying her on the piano. She said she was thinking of her hometown.
“I am sad for our family and Chinese who are there,” Li said in Chinese, through her son. “I am praying for them and just hope that the situation will be controlled soon.”
She came to Edinburg about half a year ago to visit Louis, a piano student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Her flight back home was originally scheduled for Jan. 28 and it has been rescheduled to September.
“We are hoping we can send them peace and support through our song, with our voice,” said Li, a retired voice instructor.
Lunar New Year is the most celebrated time of the year in China. For the 15-day holiday, families reunite to take part in traditional rituals together; revelers fill city streets, which are adorned in red ornaments; firecrackers are set off everywhere. This year, the holiday fell on Jan. 25, marking the start of the Year of the Rat.
“Streets were decorated and a lot of people were together on the streets,” Louis recalled of holidays back home. “But that’s not happening this year.”
Festivities in China have been held back since Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, and surrounding cities are in partial lock down.
Louis, 24, said that though he is distraught by the situation in his home nation, he is glad the Lunar New Year is being observed in the Rio Grande Valley.
“Even if they cannot celebrate, we can,” he said. “We are doing it for them.”
Miniature red lanterns hung above the hallway of the museum, and jeweled red fish were taped on the wall. Tea tasting took place in the SOS Theater, while inside the pavilion, laughter filled the air as visitors played traditional Korean, Tiwanese and Chinese games –– one being Yutnori, Mijin Oh-Villarreal’s favorite.
The Korean language lecturer at UTRGV immigrated to the Valley from her hometown, Suwon in South Korea, at 34. Donning a nongak bok, the outfit of Samulnori performers in Korean culture, Oh-Villareal explained that being a part of the event was important to her for two reasons: to share her culture with the community and remember where she came from.
“The main reason for this event is to share our culture with the community,” she said. “Jan. 25 is over, we celebrated at home. But our heart is to show others here what our culture is.”
She later added: “I am an immigrant to this area, and whenever I get to show my culture to others, I am happy because it helps me not forget where I am from. It is very important to me that I don’t.”
Oh-Villareal helped gather 40 UTRGV students to volunteer at the event throughout the day. She manned a Korean musical booth with some of her students, where attendees were able to test out the four samulnori instruments: the jing, kkwaenggwari, buk and janggu.
Later in the afternoon, she performed a Samulnori dance with her students.
“I love seeing my students teach other people,” Oh-Villareal said, smiling as one of her volunteers helped a young girl try on a hanbok, a traditional Korean dress. “I can see how they are proud of what they know, and my hope for them is that they continue being curious to learn more about other cultures.”
Another celebration of the Chinese New Year took place at the Pharr Events Center, hosted by Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, the city of Pharr and UTRGV. Hundreds gathered Friday evening for the third annual Chinese New Year Festival.
The room was sectioned by cultures: Chinese, Korean, Filippino and Middle Eastern. Children squealed as a dragon weaved through the audience in performance.
Food tasting booths lined the sides of the room, while tables of various Asian artifacts were at the center.
Angel Amaya, 11, was seen holding onto the many crafts he made at various stations.
The Donna native said that being open to different cultures is important “in case someone new from a far place comes to your school, you already know how to speak their language and you could be better friends.”