Actress/rapper Awkwafina will be front and center at Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco

When tens of thousands of people fill the streets of San Francisco for the Chinese New Year Parade, actress, comedian and rapper Awkwafina will be front and center as this year’s Grand Marshal.

"When I heard the news that I would be able to celebrate in San Francisco with you guys, I was just, I was, yeah, blown away", said Awkwafina, " So, I’m so excited to grand marshal the event and a little nervous, but I think it's going to be really fun."

San Francisco, she says is a special place for her. 

She says she has family that has lived in San Francisco for many years.

"I remember going it was my first the city I’ve been to when I visited California," she said. "And I was really, really taken aback by it's Chinatown. And it's also, it's, it's Asian community because in New York, I didn't grow up with,, a ton of other, specifically Chinese American, people. So, I remember going and, like, really loving the Chinatown and being, like, fascinated with it and the food,"

For her, the Lunar New Year is about the big celebration but more importantly, that it brings its own traditions for her and her family. 

 "I mean, it's a really important holiday especially for my Grandma who considers it the real new year. And, yeah, we do. We do the dumpling thing and the big meal," she explained.

The passing years have also brought additional significance to the celebration. 

"She's getting older, so I think it also becomes about how, you know, now me and my cousins are gonna carry on that kind of tradition, as Asian Americans," she said. 

As that next generation, carrying on traditions also means helping break out of what she has called detrimental tropes of Asian Americans.  

Awkwafina grew up in Queens and grew to fame on YouTube.

Her collaboration with comedian Margaret Cho called "Green Tea" focused on flipping stereotypes.

For her, being a role model has always taken center stage, and saying authenticity and representation is important.

"I don't think that I’ve changed, in my message or who I am," she says, "I think that I’m still growing though, you know, and I’m still figuring out what it means to be an Asian American woman, you know, now, getting older and I guess, like, the message is still the same, but it's all about now for me, like, ushering in the next generation of, and also just being an audience member of, like, the next generation of Asian American kids," she said. 

However she says, "I feel like definitely the same as that, that girl that was doing YouTube videos, back in the day." 

As her career grows, so does her body of work, from Oceans 8, Shang Chi, and The Farewell.

Her latest work includes her role as a new character in Kung Fu Panda Four.

"I just love to be a part of good stories and good story-telling," she said. "And that that's the only criteria for me right now. I don't, I, I’m open to, you know, I’ll all kinds of stuff as long as, yeah, I’m working with cool people and it's a good script."

And serving as Grand Marshall, continues a tradition. 

Her fellow stars from the blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians have also served in that role.

Director Jon M. Chu was the Grand Marshal in 2021, and Michelle Yeoh was Grand Marshal in 2018.

"Those are big, big shoes to fill," acknowledged Awkwafina.

The Chinese New Year Parade is on Feb. 24 in San Francisco. KTVU is a co-sponsor of the event.