From John Johnson, vice president for diversity and inclusion.

While much of the conversation around the Winter Olympics in Beijing is reasonably focused on the political controversy of the games, the Olympics are not the only major event happening in China right now. An estimated 1.5 billion people across the globe mark the Lunar New Year and on Feb. 1, China and several other East Asian countries began celebrating. Whitman Professor of History Brian Dott, who specializes in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, says, “For Chinese, the New Year is the most important holiday in the year. It is an important time for family to gather and celebrate together. It is also a time to visit with friends and neighbors.” 

The Lunar New Year is based on a lunisolar calendar, which was first developed in China. As Dott explains, “the date of the lunar new year moves in relationship to the modern solar calendar by the number of days in a lunar cycle.” Essentially, the lunisolar calendar attends to both the moon’s orbiting of the Earth as well as the rotation of the Earth around the sun. The Gregorian calendar, embraced by certain other cultures, uses solar cycles only. 

Lunar New Year celebrations can last for more than a week. While not all Asian communities commemorate the Lunar New Year, students from Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and China would be among those likely to celebrate this holiday. For Whitman’s 35 international students from China, this can be a difficult time to be so far from home. Students might experience increased homesickness and feel the physical and cultural distance of Walla Walla, where only about 2% of the population is Asian. 

In other parts of Washington state, Lunar New Year provides an opportunity for increased visibility and representation for the Asian community. Bellevue Square and the Wing Luke Museum on the west side host major community events this time of year. The Washington State Office of Financial Management reports that Asians make up 9.2% of Washington's total population and that the Asian megagroup is the largest minoritized racial group in the state, accounting for 44% of all people of color residing in Washington. At Whitman, approximately 16% of the student population (250 students) would be classified as Asian.

Next Wednesday, Feb. 16, we will launch the Third Space Speaker Series. The series is part of an institutional effort to advance awareness and appreciation for cultural humility, cultural wealth and cultural pluralism. By embracing these concepts, we will be able to better grasp different ways of knowing, appreciate the significance and importance of cultural practice to different communities and recognize the value added to our own lives through exposure to those with different cosmological frames. I may not celebrate the Lunar New Year, but I appreciate how meaningful that holiday is for those who do and I am buoyed by the joy it brings to my community.