Self-assured. Confident. Charismatic. People born in the Year of the Dragon possess these qualities and are said to grow up to be CEOs and world leaders. Waco’s Asian Leader Network (ALN) also aligns with the characteristics of the dragon and they are ready to welcome the Year of the Dragon.
February 10 from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., the Waco Downtown Farmers Market and ALN will transform the asphalt-cracked parking lot across the courthouse for the first time into a Lunar New Year celebration filled with red envelopes, the smell of delicious food, music from the lion dances and art.
East Market and Goods, a local Asian grocery store, used to host the Lunar New Year celebrations, but with its closing in June 2023, the Asian community mourned over the loss and had to look elsewhere for reminders of home. Jaja Chen, board member of ALN and co-owner of Cha Community, said ALN was nervous they would not compare to East Market’s past events. Putting those anxieties aside and placing the Asian community first, they were determined to host a Lunar New Year event, even if it was on a smaller scale.
“The brainstorming process began at that point of ‘How can we create a more sustainable event where we’re not having to completely reinvent what’s happened?’ but do so in a collaboration or partnership in mind so that there can be a lot more ease with launching and not having to completely do an independent event on our own,” Chen said.
The planning process for the Lunar New Year Market was quite an undertaking, with choosing vendors, entertainment, gaining sponsorships and finding a space. ALN events planning committee member and owner of L&L Hawaiian Barbecue Lucy Hao said when the Waco Downtown Farmers Market decided to partner with ALN, that was one of the best surprises.
“Obviously they have the infrastructure to do this, but even more so this puts us at a really awesome location that already has its large audience and that ties into the purpose of ALN — sharing and promoting representation of the Asian community here in Waco,” Hao said. “So that was an awesome benefit.”
Jamie Wong Baesa, ALN Lunar New Year Market co-organizer and owner of Designs With Jamie, grew up in Taiwan where Lunar New Year was celebrated how Americans celebrate Christmas; decorations line the streets and anticipation grows as the day gets closer. When moving to the United States, her Lunar New Year celebrations looked starkly different — the streets weren’t lined with red lanterns and her holiday was smaller and usually at home.
“I was actually considering applying to a market in Austin or Dallas because no one would expect Waco to have a Lunar New Year’s market,” Baesa said. “So I was like, ‘Oh, but this festival is such a big thing in my culture and my background, my heritage, and I want to be a part of some sort of market.’ So, when we decided to do one in Waco, I was really thrilled.”
Situations just like Baesa’s are precisely why ALN was founded. ALN is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit of local leaders dedicated to supporting Asian Americans in Waco by providing cultural events, mixers and supporting Asian-owned businesses.
“Asian Leaders Network was created out of seeing the need for an organization to bring a lot of the Asian leaders, not just small business owners, but leaders together to create community,” Chen said. “Also, for there to be collaborative space to be able to feature more cultural events, not only for representation, but also so that there can be more inclusion, and understanding of Asian culture and Asian heritage throughout Waco.”
ALN has designed a game as a way for festivalgoers to connect deeper with the Asian community in Waco. Called The Passport, the challenge is to visit eight booths at the festival and receive a red envelope — a symbol of blessings and prosperity — with potential prizes and coupons to local Asian-owned businesses.
“I think with this Lunar New Year Market, we’re hoping that people are introduced to new Asian businesses that pique their interest,” Hao said. “They can go visit our small business afterwards, chat with their friends about some of the lunar celebrations they did.”
An aspect of the market many Wacoans haven’t seen before is the traditional lion dance. Baylor University’s Lion Dance Club is performing this sacred dance accompanied by two people with bright feathered and sequined garb and a lion’s head to promote good luck for the new year.
Baesa said ALN is continuing the legacy of past new year celebrations and wants to make this an opportunity for anyone and everyone to celebrate and learn about the Lunar New Year. And for the rest of the Year of the Dragon, ALN plans to continue serving the Waco Asian community.
“We’ve planted some great seeds for mixers or informative events last year, and we’re excited to continue to grow into this year,” Hao said. “Not just hosting these events for Asian people in Waco but using it as an opportunity to shine light and share Asian culture and traditions to the larger community.”
The Lunar New Year Market is free and open to the public located at 500 Washington Ave. ALN passports will begin at 10 a.m. along with the first lion dance performance, and the second performance at 11 a.m.
“I’m really hopeful that this event will be an opportunity for people to see the value behind Lunar New Year, why people celebrate it, why it’s so special to us,” Baesa said. “That they will take part in it and support it and support the ventures that we have in these cultural festivities in the future as well.”