New Lunar New Year stamp is symbol for all

February 24, 2011 Heather Chin
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Who needs a rabbit foot when you have a rabbit stamp for luck?

According to the students and teachers at I.S. 259, the William McKinley School, luck was only part of the equation that led the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to choose their school to host the ceremony unveiling the Lunar New Year: Year of the Rabbit commemorative stamp.

The other part, they say, is the community’s strength and harmony in diversity, which includes the fastest growing Chinese American population in New York City.

I think it’s important to [the kids] because with such a large Asian population, it is nice to see their culture recognized, said McKinley Assistant Principal Carney Haberman.

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The nice thing about kids is they celebrate each other’s strengths and talents, added School District 20 Superintendent Karina Costantino. It’s a wonderful melting pot. We’re fortunate as a district that we speak in one voice.

Raising those voices and showing off their teamwork were groups of McKinley students singing the National Anthem, performing a Chinese ribbon dance choreographed by school dance teacher Patricia Applegate, and dancing a traditional lion dance with the Brooklyn Chinese-American Association’s Lion Dance Team.

Joining students in the McKinley auditorium on Friday, February 18, were school leaders, elected officials, postal service representatives, and community leaders, who took turns speaking about the stamp’s beauty, its significance to both the Brooklyn Asian American community and U.S. citizens as a whole, and how the new FOREVER STAMP represents new beginnings while honoring the past.

Also present was the illustrator of the commemorative Year of the Rabbit stamp, Brooklyn artist Kam Mak, who told those assembled that the stamp’s design depicts and was influenced by cultural symbolism. The design features two kumquats – in Chinese, the name means gold – against a leafy green backdrop and beside a golden motif of an elegant paper-cut stenciled rabbit and the Chinese character for rabbit.

Why not feature the creature front and center, like in the USPS’ previous series featuring the animals of the Asian zodiac?

[It is] because there are many symbols in the Lunar New Year, like kumquats, red envelopes, and the lion dance, explained Mak, a Chinatown-born artist and associate professor of illustration at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).

The concept [behind the stamp image] is simple. I love Lunar New Year and always felt that those zodiacs don’t fully represent the Lunar New Year, said Mak. Stamps are not just to slap on the mail; a stamp is an opportunity to tell a story to future generations. The rabbit is still there, just as more of a decorative element.

This uniqueness also goes beyond images and words, and into the realm of being a significant reminder and honor to the sacrifice previous generations made.

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowtiz called the stamp a recognition of the contribution Chinese Americans make [to our community] before joking that we get to celebrate four new years in New York – Western, Jewish, Muslim, and Chinese.

Our traditions are unique. They’re tied to customs: the phases of the moon and the creatures of the zodiac, said Master of Ceremonies and eighth grade English teacher Tony Mai, who said this was a special event for his students, who have never seen these types of stamps.

But the themes are universal. It’s a time to reunite with family, to reaffirm values, and to renew our love of life, he said. As the old year is put to rest, we remember our ancestors and reflect on lessons learned. We prepare for a new start.

The Year of the Rabbit began on February 3, 2011 and ends on January 22, 2012. According to the Chinese astrology, people born in the year of the rabbit tend to be sensitive, cautious, friendly and lucky.

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