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The Chinese Progressive Association’s 2024 Year of the Dragon Banquet

By Bruce Tran, Boyle Fellow

On March 22, 2024, I arrived at the Empire Garden Restaurant in the Chinatown district of Boston for the Chinese Progressive Association’s Annual Award Dinner. To be frank, I had no idea what to expect prior to entering the restaurant. The last time I was here was around twenty years ago, when I was still a child (wow, that made me sound older than I wanted to)! It is still just as I remember it, large yet still seemingly cramped in the dining area with aquariums to display fish and other seafood tanks that are potentially dinner for non-event guests. As I went upstairs and was ushered to the registration table, I was pulled aside due to a mix-up in identity. The staff were confused, as the registered guest under the Labor Guild name was Father Marc Fallon. So, to their surprise the person who showed up was not a priest but the Boyle Fellow Bruce Tran! After that simple mix up was resolved, I was led to table thirty-eight.

After a while, I was joined by the organization members who were assigned seats at my table. They were from the US-China People’s Friendship Association. They were very friendly and polite people with whom I was easily able to build a rapport with. Many of them have a connection of some sort to the Eurasian community and an intimate connection through relatives and loved ones who are immersed in the Asian culture and community. It was fascinating to hear about their growing connections with the community and how they adjusted from a western individualist mindset to include the Asian cultural value of collectivism into their way of thinking. We talked about how Asian communities and culture mixed in with western values due to America’s involvement in conflicts and wars and how it affected the dynamics of a new generation of Asians and westerners with these mixed cultural norms.

It was not much later that we were joined by some Australian history professors from Boston University. Their perspective on American history and the influence of Asian and Australian workers and culture in the grand scheme of things was interesting as I have not thought of an Australian perspective on the east-west cultural dynamic. I was so engrossed in hearing about these intellectuals and their perspectives that I barely touched the food that was brought out in clockwork fashion (ironically I am also allergic to most seafood despite my ancestry from a seafood dependent nation, to which another professor from my alma mater UMASS Boston poked fun at). Still, it was all great fun when it came to one of the main events. It would not be a Chinese New Year banquet without the culturally iconic lion dance. The lion costumes were of the southern variety, being more elaborate in costume details and adapted to the 21st century with added LED light technology attached to the lion heads to wow the audience (an interesting novelty). Large drums were beaten as the lions (and their dancers underneath the costumes) wove their way through the crowded tables taking donations from willing guests through the opening in the lion’s “mouth.” It was followed by a dance from elementary school age Asian-American children, waving around paper flags and a song sung by Chinatown natives. It was to honor the recipients who worked hard to foster a cooperative working environment for the Chinese people of Boston and to provide expression of the Asian cultural heritage of their ancestral homelands. As all things must end, it concluded with the purpose of the event fulfilled: people honored for their work and contributions to the Asian American community in the realm of labor, education and most importantly making new friends and expressing the bond where two cultures can work together for the benefit of the people that live in Chinatown, Boston (and the Asian American communities in the New England area)!

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