My CNY Parade Story

Walter Lee1
Walter Lee1

My CNY Parade Story

By Walter Lee

I grew up in the Chinatown area as a kid in the 50s. I recall going to the Chinese New Year parade as a child with my mother. At that time the parade route went through Grant Ave. The parade was the end of a 2-week Chinese New Year celebration. I remember going to a few Chinese Association banquets and receiving red envelopes. I made out like a bandit since everyone in Chinatown knew my mother. I drove my mother crazy since I didn’t know who some of the people who gave me red envelopes were and she wanted to thank them.

As I got older I would see the parade on my own or sometimes be in the parade.  One time I was on a float cheering to the crowd as a member of the Chinese Optimist Club.  I also got to be one of the many kids who held one of the many body parts of the dragon which appeared last in the parade.  We each got $5.00 for carrying one of the body part sections. $8.00 if you were carrying the tail. If you were really lucky you got a free pair of sneakers. 

I knew a lot of the kids in the parade each year since we were all part of one big Chinatown community.  Years have passed and the parade route moved to Kearny Street.  Gone were the Chinese Association banquets and now I was giving out red envelopes. Now I was taking my small children to the Chinese New year parade. I have fond memories of carrying my son on my shoulders so he could see the performances and floats. To this day my daughter still loves watching Chinese lion dancing.

In 1997 I was watching the parade and saw David Jung in the parade and thought to ask him how I could get involved. I met David when were both in grade school at Saint Mary’s Chinese mission on Stockton and Clay street. The next time I saw him I asked him how I could be a volunteer in the parade. A couple of names he gave me didn’t work out. Eventually, David told me to get a hold of Beverly Lee who worked at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. I called her and she told me I could be a Parade Marshal.


My first year as a Parade Marshal was in 1998. It was the year of the tiger. I was stoked. On the day of the parade, I went to the UPS truck located on 2nd and Market to check-in. Beverly Lee and her daughter were there to check in all the Parade Marshals. I introduced myself and she says hello. Then she says out loud “This is Walter Lee. He called me every day for 3 weeks asking to be a Parade Marshal”. I saw David at the check-in and ran into Wayne Hu who I hadn’t seen since 1964. We both now have adult children. All of Wayne’s adult children work with him as Parade Marshals. The first units I was responsible for were the Archbishop Riordan Marching band and a couple of other units which I don’t recall at this time. I did my best to give the people in charge of the units up-to-the-minute information before and during the parade. My goal was to see how I could make their parade experience a good one. After the parade, the person in charge of the Archbishop Riordan band thanked me. I was a bit tired from all the walking back and forth but happy to have participated as a Parade Marshal for the first time.  I attended a get-together someplace on Commercial Street and met other Parade Marshals. The Chinese fast food was good. I have been a Parade Marshal every year since.

This year, I will start my third cycle through the Chinese Lunar Calendar.  2022 is the year of the tiger. There was no parade in 2021 but I did get to volunteer to watch some art pieces on Grant Street. It was the year of the Ox and 11 artists submitted their interpretation of a fiberglass Ox sculpture. We all wore our Parade Marshal jackets. Everyone who was passing by asked when the parade will start. We would tell them that they were already in the parade.

What I enjoyed so much about the parade was watching the people in the parade getting ready for it. Watching the small children go through their routines over and over again. I could tell they all spent countless hours learning and practicing their routines months before the parade. All of them were eager to start their parade experience.  I still marvel at how the lion dancers bring so much life and action to the countless number of lion heads lined up on the streets. The Saint Mary’s Chinese Mission Girls drum corps are still part of the parade. They have been a part of the parade since I watched the parade as a kid.

Lion Heads

It was just magical watching how units, floats, and banners were merged together to form the parade. As a Parade Marshal, I found myself not just a monitor but a problem solver who needed a wealth of information in regards to the logistics of the parade.  “What section is my unit in?” “Where is the Wells Fargo float?”  “Where is the best place to watch the parade?”  Telling each unit what the plans are, where they will be lining up, when to relax and when it is their turn to be marching in the parade. 

The Chinese New Year Parade is not just a parade for the Chinese community.  It’s a parade that is celebrated and enjoyed by everyone in the Bay Area and beyond. Perhaps it’s this large community celebration that brings me back each year. The joy of meeting other CNY parade volunteers or participants over the years has been fun. It’s a great way to bring in the New Year.  I was able to take a picture with Mayor Ed Lee and one year I took a picture with the current and past Miss Chinatown USA.  Now, how cool is that? 

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