For the first time in two years, the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade saw acrobats and small children alike leaping across the city as they celebrated the Year of the Tiger, Saturday night.

And much like that striped predator from the zodiac calendar, the community roared back with joy and love over the two-year din of rising anti-AAPI hate and pandemic fear.

“I think that being able to start the tiger year with something bold like a parade is really significant,” said Connie Shieh, a parade attendee who was born and raised in the Bay Area.

She brought her 3-year-old daughter alongside her. The event was unusual for her daughter, Shieh said, because she’s spent over half of her life in some kind of quarantine, she said.

“It’s been a while since we’ve come out to things like this, and it’s really, really nice to be able to come out and celebrate,” Shieh added.

Stephanie Kim, a “Miss Asian Global” pageant winner in 2019, said it was awesome to see everyone celebrating their heritage and their culture, after being isolated for so long.

“This year, there’s so much more energy … in the city in general, and I feel like there’s a lot more excitement. Everyone’s just kind of looking forward to doing this [parade],” Kim said.

Lily Li, who was named Miss Asian Global 2020, said some pageants weren’t held the past few years and it is nice to see more people in Chinatown. The pageant community is like a family to her, she added, “I am able to meet a lot of successful women and also the pageant leadership really cares about mentoring us and helping us develop our leadership skills.”

Li said it was also nice to see many more people in the area. “There has been a lot of reduced business in Chinatown because of the pandemic, and it’s really great to have these community events to draw a lot of more traffic for people to come to San Francisco and to Chinatown,” she said.

Assemblymember Ting told KQED that two years ago, restaurants in Chinatown saw their business plummet. “We were wondering how we were going to weather the storm,” he said.

But this weekend’s Chinese New Year Parade, and the fairs leading up to it, brought some of the largest crowds he has seen — and he’s been attending this parade for 20 years.

“We’ve masks, we vaccinated, we’ve tested. And I think we’ve demonstrated how to get through a pandemic,” he said.

Still, he said, the community is not completely safe.

“We still have seniors who are afraid to do their morning walk, ride the bus and go the grocery store,” he said.

Cynthia Choi with Stop AAPI Hate echoed this sentiment on a call with KQED before the event. Her organization continues to receive incident reports of hate and discrimination. “Over 60 percent of our respondents are women who report the harassment and discrimination,” she said. “What’s also notable is that a majority of the incidents are taking place in public spaces.”

To combat that, Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine, introduced a bill this past week to require ten of California’s largest transit districts to study commuter harassment, and use that data to find solutions for more safety aboard transit. That’s key in San Francisco, as the Chinese community depends heavily on Muni, and fear of assaults aboard buses and trains has dissuaded some from riding.

Another legislative effort to support the Asian community came from Assemblymember Evan Low, D-Campbell, aims to make Lunar New Year’s Day a state holiday.

Choi said it’s important to recognize hate against the AAPI community is not new, acknowledging the historical precedent of an entire ethnic or racial group being scapegoated.

But at this moment in history, Choi said there’s a general sense of pandemic fatigue. “What we are seeing everywhere is the mental health toll that this is taking on our community.”

She said the organization has held several meetings to process grief, sadness, anger and the horror communities are experiencing.

This is why, she said it’s so important to come together as a community and celebrate and experience joy “especially during an extended period of what we’ve felt like is a never-ending crisis.”

“Healing actually happens when we’re in community and this has never been more true,” Choi said.

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