When the two paper lions danced up to the front door of Wang's Co. yesterday, Alan Wang, from Szechuan Province, lit so many firecrackers that they set off the smoke alarm.
A tradition was thus maintained on Seventh Street NW in Chinatown, as 4686, the Year of the Dragon, was hailed with a Chinese New Year parade. For millenia, men dressed in lion costumes have served as "symbols of bravery that chase away evil and bring good luck and prosperity," said Duane Wang, the shop's owner.
Authenticity was served yesterday. The lions gyrated to the beat of Chinese drums and cymbals manned by the Wong Chinese Boxing Association, which teaches kung fu. The masks and other accouterments cost $2,000, were imported from China and were expected to be "shot by the end of the day," said Raymond Wong, director of the association.
Derek Johnson, 20, masked in stylized lion's jaws, leaped past the multicultural crowd lining the streets of Washington and celebrating a holiday from the far side of the globe. Johnson, who is black, said he had been touched by the reaction of the elderly Chinese before whom he performed. "They call you 'son' in Chinese," Johnson said softly. "They have no prejudices."
That reflection shone as the Wong Chinese Boxing Association, of which the majority is black, marched by in yesterday's Chinese New Year's parade.
"We're going to march in the Israeli parade in New York City in April; why shouldn't we march in this one?" asked Ron Hinton, assistant director of the Roosevelt-MacFarland Marching Band, which had 70 members performing. As he chatted, Hinton was standing in front of further proof of American multiculturalism, the H Street shop labeled "Chinese Acupressure Therapy and American Indian Art Center."
Not even Wong, 31, who is from Hong Kong, seemed startled by the ethnic makeup of the parade. "In America, what is the ratio? One Chinese to 99 Americans?"
This is not to say that anyone could have mistaken this celebration for a New Year's other than Chinese. Somber-faced men led the parade from behind a banner that read "Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association." Twenty youths of Chinese descent pranced in yellow jogging suits beneath a curling dragon as it writhed under the massive Chinese arch at Seventh and H streets.
Banners with Chinese calligraphy were ubiquitous. Hundreds of Taiwanese flags alternated with American ones. Children poked their faces out of the porthole-like windows of the China Doll Restaurant's second floor. A 22-ton hydraulic crane from Marlow Heights with a 70-foot boom stood by to hoist the final fireworks barrage into the sky.
But the milieu was definitely America. The Spingarn High School band high-stepped. Eastern High School's banner read "The Pride of Capitol Hill." The crowd of 6,000, six deep along the roadway and standing on top of anything at the Gallery Place Metrorail stop that offered a little altitude was ethnically mixed but majority white.
Brian McNelis, 25, a mime who had studied at the Royal Academy of Drama Arts in London, stepped out of character and the parade long enough to describe as "vibrant" but "confusing" the staccato rhythms of the Chinese drums, alternating with the jazzy syncopation of the marching bands' drums.
Joe Bowman shrugged it all off. "This is natural," he said as he stood in the middle of the street with a rubber chicken dangling from his wrist and a technicolor-striped wig perched on his head.
Painted up in a mouth that was red, cheeks that were white, and a mustache that was blue, Bowman, alias Bobo the Clown, explained: "We celebrate everybody's party."