by Nicole Martinelli
Chinese New Year in Italy is a celebration unto itself.
For starters, parades never take place on New Years or even on the same date in different cities. The year of the dog was celebrated in Rome February 4th and in Milan the next day.
Milanese celebrations always have a special Italian touch. Last year, the New Year was feted closer to Carnival with a hybrid mix of dancing lions and kids in Harry Potter get-ups.
This year, Italians joined in with a brass band. Not just any brass band, but fanfare of the bersaglieri. Founded in the Piedmont region in 1836, this infantry corps is best known for wearing spectacular hats with a spray of grouse feathers.
So, what do mountain military trumpeters have to do with Chinese New Year?
No idea. Just like no one seems to know why parades aren’t held in Italy even close to the right date.
Perhaps it was the contrast that made the parade an honest celebration. More so than some traditional Italian fests where they can’t figure out whether to keep doing them the old way if it doesn’t mesh with politically-correct sensibility.
It was an unselfconscious, equal-gawking opportunity. Italians had pictures taken under the dragon, Chinese had their pictures taken with the Italian guys wearing funny hats.
There were no police barriers, the 20,000-strong crowd was part of the parade — asking the Emporer questions about his outfit, singing along to O’ Sole Mio.
Despite the warm-fuzzy cultural exchange, tension between the growing Chinese community and the locals was hard to overlook: The 30-meter (98-foot) dragon danced under bright orange banners protesting neighborhood Chinese businesses.
“Live Sarpi (name of the street), out with illegality and wholesalers!” A neighborhood association of Italians made a push to sell the 5€ ($6) banners leading up to the parade and many of the apartment occupants watched proceedings from above their delcared intolerance.
After seeing the neighborhood transformed by Chinese wholesalers (clothes, costume jewelry, toys, gadgets), the association formed in 1999 with the goal of regulating traffic and permit problems in the area.
Guangli Hu, president of the Association of Chinese residents in Milan which organized the parade, told Il Giornale newspaper: “There is ongoing collaboration between the Chinese business community and the city government. The problem with deliveries and traffic are practical ones that we can resolve.”
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