Every year, around the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar year, the Chinese community worldwide celebrates poetry and the arts and eats a traditional sticky rice dumpling called zongzi.
In Cerritos, the Cerritos Chinese-American Senior Citizens Association (CCASCA) celebrated their annual Dragon Boat Festival and Arts Exhibit June 4 at the with art pieces made by CCASCA members, musical performances and a ceremony honoring 19 distinguished parents.
Former Cerritos mayors Grace Hu and Laura Lee attended the event as well as Board Member James Kang.
According to Cal State Long Beach professor emeritus San-Pao Li, who attended the event, the Dragon Boat Festival traces its origins to the father of Chinese poetry, Qu Yuan, who was a minister to the king of the state of Chu around the first century B.C.
Li said that according to Chinese legend, when Qu Yuan killed himself after the state of Qin invaded Chu around 278 B.C. , the people of Chu went out to the river to look for his body. They dumped some food in the river as a way of calling his spirit back.
“They wrapped rice in bamboo leaves and tied it in order to feed his spirit,” he said, referring to the zongzi dumplings that are eaten this time of year.
The legend of finding Qu Yuan’s body and feeding his spirit has turned into an annual holiday for the Chinese community.
Prominent among the many art-related exhibits at the Dragon Boat Festival was Chinese calligraphy, a type of visual art that involves painting characters in black paint on a white sheet of paper.
“Calligraphy is a microcosm of culture—the content contains poetry, literature, painting and the art of the brush,” said Li, who also demonstrated calligraphy at the event. “How you create the artwork depends on how you execute the linear space.”
Li said that the monochromatic form of art is more than just drawing characters; it’s a “direct manifestation of feelings through art.” He said that after 4,000 years of development, it is still a popular art form and considered a hobby in China.
While art was a centerpiece at the annual Dragon Boat Festival, the children of 19 CCASCA members felt that their parents deserved recognition for their life accomplishments at a ceremony later in the afternoon.
“The children [of the parents recognized today] feel they wanted to acknowledge them at this event,” said Cindy Yen Chen, a CCASCA board member. “What these members accomplished were creating a good family and raising good kids. Most of the recipients have also done a lot for the community.”
Chen said one of the recepients, Chen Yao Liang, 97, was remembered for his bravery as a military mailman during World War II when his deliveries helped boost the morale of Chinese soldiers fighting against the Japanese.
Others, like Chi-Chih Chiang, 95, earned praise for their lifelong learning experience. Chiang attended ABC Adult School for many years and had perfect attendance.
All the parents recognized by CCASCA at the Dragon Boat Festival received flowers, bottles of wine and commendations from Mayor Carol Chen, who was not present at the event.