The alleyways have been cleaned, ruby-red lanterns hang overhead and Reverend Norman Fong is on the lookout for a microphone.
The 71-year-old San Francisco Chinatown native has emceed the city’s annual Chinese New Year parade for two decades – but this year is different.
For the first time anywhere in the US, the Lunar New Year will be an official state holiday in California.
A fortnight of festivities kick off this Sunday to mark the Lunar New Year, celebrated by millions in China, East Asia and across the world.
“It’s [about] the renewal of relationships, the forgiveness of debts and it’s almost religious in that it’s a new beginning for your life,” said Mr Fong.
“You’re wishing everyone – even your enemies – peace, love and restoration.”
While the holiday has long been celebrated in Chinatowns around the US, this year marks the first time it will be recognised by a state’s government.
State employees will not get a paid day off, but the new designation is being viewed as a gesture of solidarity amid a wave of anti-Asian sentiment and violence fuelled by the pandemic.
Between March 2020 and 2022, the Stop AAPI Hate non-profit recorded nearly 11,500 hate incidents against Asian Americans, ranging from verbal harassment to violent beatings.
Home to more than six million residents of Asian descent, California became somewhat of an epicentre for bigotry, according to the Stop AAPI HATE report, with more than a third (4,333) of documented incidents.
While hate incidents are no longer dominating the news, Asian-Americans, especially seniors and women, still “don’t feel safe and many have lost their sense of belonging,” said Manjusha Kulkarni, the organisation’s co-founder.
“The California declaration really says to us that our communities deserve to be seen and heard, and we deserve to celebrate,” she added. (BBC)