Elisa Wang, who moved to Columbus from Hefei, China, about 18 months ago, watched with emotion as the Columbus Chinese Association’s Chinese New Year Gala unfolded.
“It made me love my Chinese culture even more,” Wang said after the event Saturday. “This is the time of year when families in China are getting together. And I’m not there. So, it made me a little homesick.”
The elaborate annual event, conducted at Columbus East High School, attracted about 700 people, including association members and longtime local residents. It included a silent auction, a variety show of music, dance, comedy, fashion, martial arts and more in Clarence E. Robbins Auditorium, and closed with an Asian meal in the cafeteria.
The 700-member association organized the gathering along with the Cummins Chinese Affinity Group and the Indy Asian American Times. A Welcoming Community II grant from the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County helped cover expenses.
Plenty of American-born Columbus residents showed a bit of solidarity with the Chinese by decking themselves in traditional Chinese garb. For example, Jennifer Rumsey wore a bright red and yellow Chinese top known as a tang blouse.
“This is a wonderful event to get to see some of the culture and beauty of China,” she said.
Others said it triggered memories of their time in the country. That included Judy and Ernie Lifferth of Columbus, who visited in 2008.
“I felt like I was right back in China,” Judy Lifferth said.
Performers such as Hannah Huo, who sang with her husband near the end of the show, said she was happy to share part of their culture with the audience. They moved to Columbus 10 years ago from Xi’an, China.
“Especially for those who are far, far away from China, we think it makes everything here feel a little more like home,” Huo said.
Stan Chen, a China native here for six years, saw another aspect of the event as especially significant.
“For me,” Chen said, “the beauty was the 200 people who participated. It seemed like it was the whole (Chinese) community.”
Interspersed within the Chinese culture were elements of the West. For instance, a comedic drama scene included a Michael Jackson song, “Dangerous,” and featured a performer breaking into a smooth moonwalk to enthusiastic audience applause. And a dance troupe from Indiana University brought an element of hip hop to the proceedings.
Chen said the event serves as a terrific way to bring people together.
“For the Chinese, the new year is kind of like our version of Thanksgiving — a Thanksgiving family reunion,” he said.