Celebrating Chinese arts and cultureJan 05, 2015 03:06PM ● By Kerigan Butt
(Editor's note: This article first appeared in our Spring 2014 edition.)
Shirley Tseng has been involved with the Chinese American Community Center from the very beginning. In 1982, her family was among approximately 100 families in the area who banded together to plan the Chinese American Community Center as a non-profit organization that would serve the greater Wilmington and southeastern Pennsylvania communities by promoting Chinese culture in a variety of ways.
“We wanted to keep our heritage and culture,” explained Tseng, “and we also wanted to introduce the heritage and culture to the community.”
The availability of a vacant elementary school on Little Baltimore Road coincided with the formation of the Chinese American Community Center, and the founding families were able to pool their resources and purchase the building that is still the organization's home after all these years. The building hums with activity seven days a week, which is just one indication that the Chinese American Community Center organization is as vital and vibrant as ever.
One of the highlights each year is a three-day Chinese Festival that is a celebration of Chinese arts and culture. The festival, which attracts thousands of visitors each year, includes exhibits, gourmet food, and cultural performances. This year’s event took place from June 20 to June 22.
“We have three pillars to the festival—exhibits, the performances, and the cuisine,” explained Ta-Chen Mo, the chairman of the Chinese Festival Planning Committee.
Everyone involved with the Chinese American Community Center looks forward to the festival. The various exhibits, programs, and displays all help to inform the community at large about Chinese culture and customs.
One of Ta-Chen Mo's favorite exhibits this year focused on Chinese lacquer ware. Another exhibit showcased beautiful Chinese kites.
“Through the exhibits, we want people to know about our art and culture,” Tseng explained. “The ongoing goal is to promote Chinese culture.”
The food court is always a popular attraction for visitors. Authentic Chinese cuisine is served. Guests can also sample home-cooked dishes, Chinese barbecue chicken, beef, sausage, snacks, and refreshments.
Like Tseng, Floyd Ho, the chairman of the board of directors, has been involved with the Chinese American Community Center since its inception. He said work on the Chinese Festival begins in earnest right after Christmas each year. Dozens of volunteers work to plan out every aspect of the festival.
“It takes a lot of effort,” explained Ho. “The festival has many performances and artifacts from China. We have a lot of highly dedicated volunteers. We work hard and we all enjoy it.”
This year's Chinese Festival was the 20th one. U.S. Sen. Tom Carper and a host of other dignitaries attended the opening ceremony for the 2014 festival.
While the festival is a major highlight each year, the heart of the Chinese American Community Center is really the regular schedule of activities that it holds. Two schools operate at the community center. There are also a wide variety of clubs focusing on aerobic exercise, ballroom dancing, basketball, children’s dance, fencing, and table tennis. There are cooking classes and hiking, biking, and dining programs, as well as groups working on paper art or playing with Yo-Yos.
The Chinese American Community Center has more than 800 members, and Tseng said that more than 200 members routinely take part in activities at a senior club that it offers.
“Our members come from Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong, and some have been born in the U.S.,” Tseng explained. “We have an open-door policy. We welcome anybody and everybody.”
An important part of the Chinese American Community Center’s mission is promote the exchange and integration of Chinese and American cultures.
“We are proud to continue building the bridge for the area’s people to appreciate the beauty and grace of Chinese culture,” explained Ta-Chen Mo.
The Chinese American Community Center operates a Montessori School and Child Care Center on weekdays. What makes this Montessori School unique is the depth of Chinese language and culture that it offers.
“We always believe early childcare education is very important,” Tseng said.
The children who attend the Montessori School programs are culturally diversified, coming from Europe, Asia, and South America, which adds richness to the school environment. The school offers spacious classrooms, private playgrounds, and a gym-auditorium.
“Our focus is on the child's cognitive, social, physical and emotional growth,” explained Ann Marie West of the Montessori School. “Enrichment to our Montessori program includes foreign language, creative art, gym, music and library. The children also have an opportunity for self-development in various after school electives such as computer, drama, ballet, yoga and soccer.”
The current year is an important milestone for the school.
“We are currently celebrating our 25th anniversary year,” said West. She noted that the school is offering a 10 percent tuition discount for all new enrollments for the 2014-15 school year.
The Chinese American Community Center is also home to the Chinese School of Delaware, which is a not-for-profit, educational weekend school that dates back to 1971. The Chinese School of Delaware has had up to as many as 180 students at times through the years. Classes begin each August and there are two semesters that run 16 weeks each. It has also been responsible for expanding opportunities for Delaware school students to learn the Chinese language.
In 1992, the Brandywine and Red Clay school districts approved the process where high school students who study Chinese at the Chinese School of Delaware could be accredited for their work. The Red Clay School District invited the Chinese School to become a partner and started offering Chinese as a foreign language course in John Dickenson High School. This program was expanded to include A. I . Du Pont High School and H.B. DuPont Middle School a few years later.
Tommy Lu, the longtime principal of the Chinese School of Delaware, said that the school is very proud of how it integrates technology into the school, which has allowed for more comprehensive assignments throughout the week.
In addition to Chinese language classes, the curriculum of the Chinese School of Delaware includes cultural activities such as calligraphy, cooking, ping-pong, Yo-Yo, Chinese Kung-Fu, crafts, Chinese chess and checkers.
“We have a lot of education taking place in that building,” Ho said proudly. “It’s a place where we meet regularly and have many activities.”
Parents and school officials are also actively involved in Hockessin and the surrounding communities, and they work to introduce various organizations and public schools to the Chinese culture.
With more and more business being transacted internationally, it has never been more important for people to learn the Chinese language and to understand the Chinese culture.
“The world is getting smaller and people are working together more,” Ho said. “We would like to continue our activities and continue to serve the community—not just the Chinese community, but the community at large—by participating in the Fourth of July Parade and the Christmas Parade. We want to connect to the local community.”
The Chinese American Community Center is located at 1313 Little Baltimore Road in Hockessin. For more information about the Chinese Festival, visit chinesefeatival.org. Contact the Chinese American Community Center office at 302-239-0432 for more about the regular schedule of programs and activities.