Yo-yos, Asian pride, culture and nervousness as students prepare for the Lunar New Year pageant
Cayden Shen will be on center court Friday night for the Long Island Nets basketball game, but it’s not the hoops that make him nervous and excited — a Lunar New Year performance makes him more anxious.
“It will be my first basketball game, so it will be really cool to attend and play,” 15-year-old Shen said. “There are a lot of people, so of course I’m nervous.”
Shen is among approximately 20 students from Tzu Chi Academy Long Island who will perform at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum as the Nets take on the Cleveland Charge in the NBA’s G League. The academy, which provides lessons at Oyster Bay Secondary School, is dedicated to teaching Chinese culture and instilling strong values in children, the school principal said, Richard Chuang.
The Lunar New Year celebration, called Chinese New Year by Chinese Americans, began on Tuesday. This year commemorates the Year of the Tiger, which symbolizes strength, courage and bravery. The tiger also represents a means of chasing away evil spirits, according to Chinese tradition.
Ming Chiang, president of Hello Taiwan – an organization that advances Taiwanese culture – which helped organize the event, joked that he hopes the Year of the Tiger can chase away the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that the game is the perfect opportunity to support a local team while promoting Taiwanese culture.
“I think it’s great that we can hire some of our second and third generations [kids] sharing some of our Taiwanese heritage,” said Chiang, who also sits on the board of the Long Island Association, a business group.
Students from six other local Asian American schools will attend the event, Chiang added.
The show will include the singing of the national anthem, with violinist Yu Chen (Anthony) Tseng accompanying the group.
Chen and his brother, Darren, 12, are also part of a group of four people who will perform a routine using the Chinese yo-yo, a toy that dates back to the early 15th century and the Ming Dynasty. For performers, proficiency requires consistent technique, good hand-eye coordination, and patience.
Shen and Darren’s mother, Alice Lai, 44, of Roslyn, said her sons had been practicing Chinese yo-yos since they were in first grade. She stressed the importance for them to learn Taiwanese culture and spread it among their peers.
“This connection is very important,” Lai said. “The Chinese school, or foreign language school, is very rigorous, but I think the effort is worth it.”
Chuang said his students were excited about the opportunity to perform in front of a crowd after two years of virtual events due to the pandemic.
“The kids are so excited and they also want to bring joy to everyone at the game,” he said. “Lunar New Year is so important to the Asian community.”
In a statement, the Long Island Nets said the first 1,000 fans will receive a free t-shirt and will be auctioning off limited-edition SpongeBob SquarePants-themed jerseys. Proceeds will be donated to Hello Taiwan.
“We are thrilled to use basketball to unite all walks of life and come together to commemorate the Year of the Tiger – a year that represents strength and resilience,” said Alton Byrd, senior vice president of Growth Properties. at BSE Global, the parent company team.