Southampton Cultural Center Celebrates the Chinese New Year

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Traditional Ryukyu dancers wear bingata kimonos and hanagasa hats in Japan.

By Michelle Trauring

Japanese flower arrangement will be taught during the afternoon workshops.

It has taken almost 400 years, but the East End is finally getting with the times—or the Chinese lunar calendar, that is.

For the first time in its history, the Hamptons will see its first-ever Chinese Lunar New Year celebration, featuring live stage performances, family friendly workshops and, of course, traditional Asian cuisine that is a crucial part of ringing in the new year—which begins at the new moon that falls between January 21 and February 20—according to Suiv Lee, who organized Saturday’s festivities at the Southampton Cultural Center.

“Basically, Chinese people are very family oriented, so we get together on the holidays and we eat,” she laughed during a recent telephone interview. “It takes time to understand a new culture, nothing happens quickly. But my personal belief is: If people understand each other, then we have less conflict. You understand and everything works out, and you respect each other because you understand better.

“At the end we’re all the same. We all want love, peace and security. We all want the same thing.”

The “Dance of a Thousand Hands,” a traditional Chinese dance, will stage on Saturday night at the Southampton Cultural Center.

Cultural festivals help bridge that gap, Ms. Lee said, and she would know. The brainchild behind similar celebrations points west—Farmingdale, Port Washington and Stony Brook, just to name a few—she said the Southampton event will become annual, with each celebration also focusing on different two Asian countries other than China.

This year, Japanese and Indian culture will be explored through a calligraphy brush class and henna painting, respectively, during a free series of children’s workshops at the Cultural Center before the main event—a live performance featuring Asian dancing and singing, most notably the Dance of a Thousand Hands.

“It’s very beautiful. We have a group of 10 people dancing, so you have 20 hands. How they appear on the stage is one person with 20 hands,” she said. “After the performance will be the feast. The goal is to educate and promote the culture.”

A commercial real estate specialist with Douglas Elliman in Southampton, Ms. Lee emigrated from China to the United States 30 years ago, and recognizes a real dearth of Asian residents in the Hamptons, despite their rank as the top real estate buyer internationally, she said.

“I believe I’m the first Chinese real estate agent in the Hamptons,” she said. “Most of the Chinese people, they’re in the city. Education is key for the kids, for the family, so they’re by any place that has a good school district. I guess the younger generation is different, but for the older generation, family comes first. They’re not spending their money for themselves—and the Hamptons is a luxury summer place.

“I feel like they don’t know about the Hamptons,” she continued. “So hopefully, by this event, the Chinese and Asian people will come out to the Hamptons, and the Hamptons community will learn about Asians. Hopefully, this is the starting point.”

The Chinese Lunar New Year and Asian Arts Celebration will be held on Saturday, February 11, from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Southampton Cultural Center. Admission to the stage performance is $20, or free for children and students age 21 and younger. Admission to the workshops and food reception is free. For tickets and more information, visit scc-arts.org.

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