Close-knit community is family

This article is over 10 years old.

Photography by Colin Comeau, Brandon Sun

Article by Graeme Bruce, Brandon Sun

For the slew of workers who keep the Maple Leaf plant humming, or those students who chose Brandon University as their stomping grounds, the Chinese New Year celebrations remind Brandon’s growing Chinese community of home.

But three-year-old Tahlia Burton won’t have any memories of her birthplace in southern China. She was adopted by Brandon residents Christine and Todd two years ago.

Instead of leaving Tahlia’s heritage behind, the couple has been celebrating Chinese New Year with their daughter,exposing her to some of her culture little bits at a time.

The family of three, along with 250 others, attended the celebrations put on by the Brandon University Chinese Students and Scholars’ Association at Knox United Church on Saturday.

“We just want to make sure that we bring some of her heritage into her life,” Christine said.

Though the new year celebration is the only Chinese activity the family takes part in, as Tahlia grows older, the couple just wants Tahlia to be aware of her background. The family is also making a trip to Winnipeg next weekend for another new year celebration with a group of families who have adopted Chinese children.

“We’re giving her some options and letting her, even at a young age, figure out what she’s interested in and as she gets older, she’ll steer that ship.”

Christine said in speaking with other adopted parents, many decide to raise their children without any nod to the child’s culture of origin.

“Others, they keep some of their traditional stuff.”

Christine and Todd are taking this crash course in Chinese culture step by step. While not pushing Tahlia into language classes, for instance, they’re making sure all of the doors are open for her as she grows and matures and shapes her identity on her own.

“(We’re) making sure if she has any questions or wants to do something traditional, absolutely we’ll be supportive of that,” Christine said. “We’re very encouraged and excited to see that there’s more Asian culture here and that can only benefit her.”

The city’s biggest Chinese New Year celebrations on Saturday included 70 to 80 onstage performers such as the crowd-favoured lion dance, singing, dancing, a magician, a martial arts demonstration and raffle draws throughout the night.

Of course, the food was the main attraction, with a mix of traditional and western-style Chinese dishes.

For Chinese people, ringing in the new year is a family affair, but for so many of those living in Brandon, the closeknit community is their family.

Andy Wang, president of the Brandon University Chinese Students and Scholars’ Association, said the volunteer-driven night is a chance to subdue some of the homesickness the community may feel.

“Because we are all foreigners in Canada, sometimes people are homesick, especially young people because we’re here alone.”

Chinese New Year, also known in China as the Spring Festival, is one of the most important annual celebrations for the country.

While 2013, the Year of the Snake, officially started on Feb. 10, Wang’s group hosts the event a few weeks after during reading break.

The Year of the Snake promises luck, adventure and prosperity.

Yuhuan Zhao has already seen his fair share of adventure in the past few years. Arriving in Brandon 10 months ago, the cello player is about to wrap up his first year of graduate studies in music at BU, while also taking English classes.

After graduating from a conservatory in China two years ago, Zhao made the trip across the world and landed in Pittsburgh, where he spent two years in a general arts program grasping the English language.

On Saturday night, the 26-year-old performed “The Woman Flower” with the accompaniment of a recording.

“This was my first time playing a Chinese song,” he said after his set.

Coming to Brandon on his own, Zhao said the Chinese community welcomed him almost immediately and considers those around him to be the family he rings in the new year with.

The lunar Chinese calendar determines the date of Chinese New Year, which for many is a month-long celebration.


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