N.B. Chinese community adapts to pandemic challenges

·3 min read

For decades, members of the Chinese Cultural Association of New Brunswick have spent Sundays together, in person, studying their language, heritage and culture.

That is until the pandemic swept through and changed how they interact.

It wasn't two months after the group celebrated the Chinese New Year with an annual gala on stage at The Playhouse in Fredericton that the pandemic locked down society.

Kids were no longer able to meet with other kids, and adults were no longer able to teach the young generation of newcomers about their heritage.

Danya Mu, president of the volunteer association, she said it has been a challenging time for the group.

"It is very important for us to keep our culture," Mu said.

Gary Moore/CBC
Gary Moore/CBC

Each week, between 80 to 100 people attend Chinese school classes, organized by the group. The classes are focused on language, but there is also instruction in martial arts, dancing, choir and yoga.

After a few weeks of lockdown, the group started to experiment with activities online using Zoom.

"We tried some cooking classes because it's one of the favourite things that we like to do," Mu said, adding that the feedback was positive.

Following the success of the online cooking classes, Mu and the group started to move most of the courses online.

She said it was still difficult not to be together in person, but the online classes were working, especially for teaching the language.

Gary Moore/CBC
Gary Moore/CBC

Some courses, like martial arts, couldn't really translate online.

The success of the online classes gave Mu and the group the confidence to start preparing for the Chinese New Year gala. They are planning to hold it online this year.

This year's theme of the gala is "We are family" — a nod to the community staying together during the pandemic.

Jenny Zhang, a longtime volunteer with the association, said it is important to make sure there's a show this year, even if it's not on stage.

Gary Moore/CBC
Gary Moore/CBC

"We put lots of effort, and the people worked together," Zhang said.

Normally the group would start rehearsing in September for the show that is in January or early February, depending on the Chinese New Year.

Instead of spending the fall rehearsing, they are busy recording sessions outdoors while the weather is still nice.

On Sunday, about 20 people met at Killarney Lake, on Fredericton's north side, to film the choir singing.

"Actually, I feel very confident right now," Mu said after spending the morning filming a video with the choir.

"We support each other," she said, adding that the volunteers are learning how to make the gala online as they go.

"I think we're going to make it — I hope so," she said.

Mu said the Chinese New Year is too important to the community to risk not having a gala, even if it's different from other years.

"It is the most traditional way we will celebrate our Chinese New Year. It's kinda the most important day for the Chinese. We want to keep that tradition."