Chinese New Year Parade has distinctly American history

In its long history in the Bay Area, the Chinese New Year Parade has been a place for tradition, celebration and family.   

Former parade director Wayne Hu says "when we look back in the history of the parade and there were Chinese participants in the July 4th parade in the 1850s. And I think is that the Chinese wanted to be part of the community. And so they participate and created this parade and through the years, they created their own parade on their own celebration rather than just July 4th." 

But for the Chinese-American community, the parade has also provided something more. 

"It is very important as a Chinese-American because we have this big parade, we get a lot of attention," said David Lei who was a parade director and is now a cultural advisor for the parade. "This is our soapbox once a year when we can interpret our history, our culture and our traditions." 

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Lei says this is a time when education is key and says the Chinese New Year parade leads to better education, "because of the parade, teachers all around the country says, oh, this year it's time to bring out the curriculum about Chinese," said Lei. "And all the other things, because without this, we won't have that kind of attention awareness, " 

The parade has for decades attracted large crowds. Back in 1953 there was a crowd estimated at 140,000 that filled the streets. That year, 1953, was the first year it was open to the public and it grew even more when the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in 1958 took over.  

KTVU started broadcasting the event in 1987. 

Today, it is considered one of the largest celebrations of its kind in the world 

Lei says even Hong Kong took notice and in 1984 hired the parade’s art consultant to help them build a similar parade. Lei says "Don went there with all these Chinese designs but then Hong Kong says, no, we want your American parade".  

It is a Chinese-American tradition and a Bay Area staple that through the years has always been about community. 

Hu says "I think the most important element of the parade is the participants that come from our community. And although it's always very difficult, it is to have. These community groups organize and train their kids to participate and perform." And says this parade "represents, both sides of our community. Yes, the old and the new." 

 And while the parade last year was canceled due to the pandemic, people who love it say bringing it back especially in the wake of incidents of AAPI hate feels more important than ever  

 Lei says "what they see is an awareness that the Chinese were here for a long time, and it's impactful. What they don't see is the deeper culture they end up with." 

 "It's important to bring back a tradition," says Hu, "so it’s passed on. And so even my grandkids, this is our parade. And I think that is an important link between generations."  

The Chinese New Year Parade is Saturday, Feb. 19 in San Francisco and KTVU will broadcast the event on Saturday, Feb. 26. Watch it on TV or on 

More stories and videos about the parade and Lunar New Year are here: