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San Francisco will hold its Lunar New Year celebration this weekend, on high alert

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

San Francisco holds its annual Lunar New Year parade later today. And as many prepare to celebrate, the mood is tempered in part by recent mass shootings in California. The massacres in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay involved Asian Americans, both as victims and alleged shooters. Sara Hossaini from member station KQED reports.

SARA HOSSAINI, BYLINE: San Francisco's Chinatown is decorated with red lanterns and multicolored streamers. But the streets are quieter than they might have been a few years ago before the pandemic took its toll, shuttering shops and spurring increased violence against Asian Americans. William Ng teaches tai chi and is visiting this neighborhood, where he was born and raised. He has a pink shopping bag full of herbs and incense.

WILLIAM NG: Incense is very important for the Lunar Chinese New Year. And everyone burn incense for good luck and pray to the goddesses and the gods.

HOSSAINI: Ng is 73, and he says during the holiday, there are large family outings - his favorite - as well as community charity fundraisers and a big symbolic birthday party.

NG: Everyone's birthday is on that date, so they add on one year for your birthday.

HOSSAINI: It's the year of the rabbit, which is considered rather lucky, says David Lee. He's walking near Portsmouth Square, known locally as Chinatown's living room, showing off his favorite New Year's foods.

DAVID LEE: The roast duck is particularly good at the shop that we're passing - you know, roast pork.

HOSSAINI: Lee is executive director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee.

LEE: Many of the other delicacies that we typically don't eat during the year - such as candied fruits and vegetables, the gingers, the candied chestnuts and dates.

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HOSSAINI: Last weekend, just across the bay, Oakland celebrated its first Lunar New Year's parade in decades. City resident Carline Au says hanging out with friends here is helping her stay positive. She's originally from Monterey Park, where a mass shooter killed 11 people at an Asian American dance studio last month.

CARLINE AU: It's having that sense of fear again and not wanting to go outside and feeling alone that I really wanted to come out today where I am in Oakland to combat that narrative that it's OK, that joy and community and - you know, is still out there.

HOSSAINI: People are hungry for celebration, but also change, says Jennifer Tran. She's executive director of the national Progressive Vietnamese American Organization.

JENNIFER TRAN: For the Lunar New Year, it's really difficult or actually taboo to talk about a big negative. Everything has to be hopeful. But our next direction has to hold those two in tension - right? - both hope, healing and actions.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Line up for opening dance. If you guys want to take off your heels, you guys can, too.

HOSSAINI: Hopeful action is the theme of at least one contestant's campaign for Miss Chinatown U.S.A. During pageant rehearsals this week, Xiao Lin Mei of Chicago practiced her pitch.

XIAO LIN MEI: My platform is for racial unity, so it is very relevant to the Asian hate and the racial reckoning across America. And I want to be able to make a difference.

HOSSAINI: All pageant contestants will be part of a float in San Francisco's Lunar New Year parade this evening. Organizers expect more than 1 million people to attend this weekend's celebrations. For NPR News, I'm Sara Hossaini in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sara Hossaini is a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She holds a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She brings a blend of documentary journalism and public interest communications experience developed through her work as a nonprofit multimedia consultant and Associate Producer on national PBS documentary films through groups such as the Center for Asian American Media, Fenton Communications and The Working Group. She likes to travel, to get her hands in the dirt and to explore her creative side through music, crafts and dance.