Chinese Americans are making friends, celebrating traditional Chinese holidays and strengthening cultural ties, thanks to the efforts of the Peoria Chinese Association (PCA). Established in 1965 by a small group of Chinese professionals in Peoria, the PCA is a non-profit, non-political, non-religious organization aimed at enriching the lives of Chinese American families by offering workshops, activities and other social gatherings throughout the year.
The organization is open not only to Chinese American families living in Peoria, but to members of all races who share a passion for learning about Chinese food, holidays, language and customs. The association’s members come from many different backgrounds and professions but unite for a common cause: to foster fun, fellowship and personal enrichment among the Chinese American community.
From the organization’s humble beginnings in 1965, when a few families from Taiwan planned a weekly social outing, leaders of the Peoria Chinese Association have watched the organization establish a strong foundation in the city. Today, with approximately 1,000 members in the Peoria area, the PCA receives support from companies such as Caterpillar, CEFCU and Jim Maloof Realtor.
“We try to incorporate as many organizations as we can to gain financial support,” says Monica Li, who served as president of the PCA in 2006. “A majority of our members work for Caterpillar, and others work for Bradley University and area hospitals, so it is helpful to make connections and gain contributions.”
Not only does gaining financial support prove feasible for the PCA, it’s also easy for the association to gain members. “Many of our members came to Peoria because their jobs transferred them here,” says Li. “Other Chinese families moved to the city because they felt it was the best place to raise their children. Once they’re here, they are happy to find out about us.”
As a result of the Peoria Chinese Association’s efforts, Chinese American families continue to learn, gain understanding and develop a deep appreciation for their culture. One way they do this is by participating in celebrations and other activities that commemorate traditional Chinese holidays.
One of these holidays is Duan Wu, meaning Day of Right Mid-Day, held in memory of a patriotic Chinese poet. The holiday, celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar year, dates back to China’s early years. Several legends, particularly the Legend of Qu Yuan, help explain the holiday’s origins.
Qu Yuan was a court official of the State of Chu, which dates back over 2,000 years to the Warring States Period. After several failed attempts to warn the emperor of the corruption of the Chinese government, Qu Yuan drowned himself in a river. In honor of his memory, his supporters made rice dumplings wrapped in reed-leaves, known to the Chinese as zongzi. His supporters then scattered the dumplings into the Miluo River as fish food so that the body of Qu Yuan would remain untouched. When locals heard the news of Qu’s death, they quickly sailed out in boats to search for his body.
Today, Chinese Americans eat rice cakes and hold boat races in honor of the holiday. The races gradually developed into dragon-boat races during which teams of rowers work in unison to slide their boats across the water.
The PCA also celebrates the Chinese Moon Festival, similar to a family reunion. The festival usually takes place outdoors, with lunch, games and other activities provided. According to Li, the festival’s name comes from the fact that the moon is round and represents the unity and “coming together” of individuals and their families.
The most important holiday celebration is the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival. The celebration traditionally begins on the first day of the first lunar month and ends on the 15th. This year, the New Year was celebrated on February 7th. In China, the holiday is traditionally honored with red couplets and red lanterns on the doorframes, and homes are beautifully decorated with Chinese knots. For the PCA, the holiday includes a Chinese buffet dinner featuring Chunjie specialty dishes and various festivities, including an on-stage performance, gift bags for kids and a lucky drawing. “The Chinese New Year is a special time for families, and we always have many people who attend,” says Li. “Last year, we had between 500 and 700 people. It’s a very happy day for children and parents to come together!”
Dancing in the New Year
In addition to the Peoria Chinese Association’s list of celebrations, the organization is known for its various clubs. Designed for individuals ranging from dancers to mothers to athletes, the clubs help Chinese Americans unite under a banner of common interests. The Ladies Dancing Group and Kids Dancing Group showcase the talent, energy and enthusiasm of PCA members through traditional Chinese dance, classic ballroom dance and modern dance practice. Rehearsals are held once a week, and performances are given for the Chinese New Year!
Something for Everyone
In addition to dancing, the PCA offers the Mom’s Club to give working mothers and stay-at-home moms a night out with friends, including dinner, a movie and more! The Mom’s Club also gives grandparents an opportunity to sightsee, play poker or Ma Jiang, and catch a movie. And with the Kids’ Playgroup, children also have a chance to interact
with others while moms get acquainted in an informal atmosphere. In addition, the club provides activities and field trips for the whole family. Camping, parades, picnics and holiday parties, as well as trips to the zoo, the U-pick farm and even Disneyland are just a few of the things families will enjoy.
Calling All Athletes
When it comes to encouraging athletic interests, the Peoria Chinese Association caters to sports fans with opportunities to participate in all types of sports, from softball and tennis to golf, soccer and basketball. The PCA Softball Club welcomes individuals and their friends at all skill levels. The club organizes games every other weekend and meets at North Trail Park, 1700 West Hickory Grove in Dunlap. No membership fee is required, and all interested individuals or families may contact Veronica Zhu at [email protected] or Hao Min at. Email reminders and game schedule changes are sent to all players.
For all those interested in “taking it to court,” the PCA Tennis Club holds exciting games on Saturdays from 4 to 6pm at North Trail Park. All tennis fans are encouraged to drop by the park, and membership is free! Participants may contact Zhaoli Hu at [email protected] or Hao Min at the email address above to receive reminders and schedule changes.
Tennis isn’t the only game that has PCA members excited. For those who want to show off their skills on the green, the PCA Golf Club meets every weekend on either the Kellogg or Donovan Golf Course. All those interested may contact Jian Luo at [email protected] or Dongming Tan at [email protected] for directions and details.
And for the guys, there’s the Men’s Soccer Club, which organizes games every Saturday at 4:20pm at Detweiller Park. All those interested in participating may contact Yanfei Liu at [email protected]. Invite your friends, and come ready for a day of healthy competition and loads of fun!
Of course, one can’t forget everyone’s favorite sport—basketball! Both guys and gals are welcome to shoot some hoops each Saturday at 2:30pm at North Trail Park. Players are always welcome to drop by the park at this time and join in the fun. For additional details or to be added to the email list for game cancellations or rescheduling, contact Wang Jian at [email protected] or Hao Min at [email protected]
The Heart of a Nation
A central part of China’s culture is the dragon, which is used not only as an integral part of the Chinese dance club, but also serves as the basis for the Chinese Dragon Team. “The dragon is a symbol of the Chinese and will assist with increasing awareness of the Peoria Chinese Association in the local community,” says Li. “We are very lucky to have this special gift from China.” The dragon is also set to appear in this year’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. For more information about how to become involved with this and other Peoria Chinese Association activities, log on to chineseinpeoria.org.
Whether you’re Chinese American or simply interested in learning about the culture of a great nation, become involved with the Peoria Chinese Association. It’s one of our city’s greatest treasures! a&s