On Saturday morning, to mark the start of the Chinese New Year, Belleville residents and representatives from Chinese-American communities in New Jersey and New York, gathered at Town Hall on Washington Ave. for a special flag-raising.
The center of attention was the golden banner shown here — the 17th century Ming Dynasty flag. The four individuals holding it are (l to r.): Margaret Lamb and her husband, David Chen, founders of the New Jersey Chinese Festival and the Center of Chinese Art at William Paterson University; Michael Perrone, president of the Belleville Historical Society, and Tommy Xie, president of the N.J. Fukien Association, the largest Chinese organization in New Jersey.
(In case you’re wondering how Belleville found a 400-year-old flag: It didn’t. It made its own copy — thanks to the skills of Historical Society volunteer seamstress MaryAnn Cassese. Said Perrone, “You can’t buy a 17th century Ming Dynasty flag off the shelf anywhere.”)
Among the 50-60 people attending Saturday’s celebration were Newark Chinatown historian and author Yoland Skeete Laessig (seated lower left); Belleville Councilman Kevin Kennedy; Historical Commission Chairman and Board of Education Trustee Tom Grolimond, and Board of Education President Chris Lamparello.
The ceremony opened with the playing of three national anthems: the traditional Ming Dynasty anthem, followed by those of the People’s Republic of China and the United States. Then Belleville High School students assisted in raising the flag.
Those familiar with Belleville history know it has a special connection to Chinese culture, for it was this township which, in 1870, welcomed the first Chinese immigrant community in the eastern United States.
After the completion of the U.S. transcontinental railroad in 1869, the Chinese laborers on the West Coast who had worked on the project found themselves unemployed and the victims of prejudice. The migrated east, to new jobs and a new home, right here on the banks of the Passaic. And it was in 1871 that Belleville first celebrated Chinese New Year.
The 2017 Chinese New Year’s celebrations will continue until Feb. 15. This is the Year of the (Fire) Rooster. That’s something to crow about!
– Karen Zautyk