Our view: Bok Kai could use volunteers
FRIDAY: Reception for the 2013 Bok Kai exhibit: Year of the Snake. 5 p.m.-7 p.m., Yuba-Sutter Regional Arts Council, 624 E St., Marysville.
SATURDAY: Parade at 11 a.m. on D Street, starting at Sixth Street, in Marysville. Parade is followed by a lion dance in front of the Hop Sing Building.
SUNDAY: Bomb Day at 4 p.m. at First and C streets.
It's a big weekend in our community: time for the Bok Kai Parade and the Marysville Chinese community's Golden Dragon will wind through the downtown streets for the 133rd year.
Think of it: A community celebration that's well on its way to a second century, that has survived booms and busts, war years, floods, good times and bad. We just want to make sure that it survives — maybe even grows in coming years, and that will mean a focus on community involvement.
The celebration has long marked the coming together of businesses, organizations and volunteers, making it one of our premiere celebrations and tourism draws. But there used to be many more involved; the number has dwindled in recent times, and we would like to see the trend reversed.
Of course, things change. Marysville once boasted one of the largest Chinese communities on the West Coast. Many came here during the Gold Rush and more settled into the area after completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Drive through the area of First and C streets in Marysville and you'll see remnants of that heyday in the faded storefronts and dusty windows.
The ancient Bok Kai Temple sits against the levee at the foot of D Street where it was built in 1880 to replace the original building two blocks east. Recently restored, the old brick building housing the Chinese deity for whom it is named exudes the history of another time through its dimly lit interior and scent from more than a century of burned incense. Down the street sits the Suey Sing Society building, a companion to the Hop Sing Society building around the corner — both were centers of Chinese social life in the community's prime.
The origin of the Bok Kai Parade, arguably the oldest parade in California, dates back to the 1850s and the original temple. After the new temple was dedicated in 1880, processions of Chinese would accompany its dragon through the dirt streets of lower Marysville to celebrate the birthday of Bok Eye, the Chinese water God.
By the 1930s, the community at large had joined with the Chinese to turn it into a cultural celebration complete with a procession, Chinese opera performers, a marching band and community dances. The parade as we know it began to take shape after World War II, when community organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and the Yuba-Sutter Regional Arts Council climbed on board.
Committees of volunteers worked with members of a proud and active, yet dwindling Chinese community to plan the event each year. Sponsorships from businesses and private parties helped cover a myriad of expenses associated with staging the event that drew thousands of people to town — insurance, printing, portable toilets, tables and chairs, bleachers, awards, posters, and advertising. Some of the sponsorships were used to cover the expenses of bringing Chinese entertainers from other cities. The event was telecast live on the local cable system and replayed several times each year.
Committee of 10
A good deal of hard work and planning went into this year's event; but with a committee of fewer than 10. While the loss of a $3,000 sponsorship from a longtime partner hurts the bottom line, organizers say it won't greatly impact the event, which still has more than 20 local business sponsors contributing a total of more than $5,000.
Entry fees, sponsorships, donations, merchandise sales and vendor fees are expected to cover this year's expenses estimated at under $10,000, said Bob Blaylock, a member of the festival committee. In addition, a number of services are being donated by businesses and the City of Marysville. On parade day, service clubs and businesses are expected to help staff booths and other tasks. Troops from Beale Air Force continue a longstanding tradition of providing the arms and feet that drive the dragon through town at the end of the procession.
"There are more jobs that need to be done than people to do them," said Shaunee Burrows-Kang, co-chairman of the event.
The Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce is no longer involved in the festival and the Arts Council, except for providing a place for a reception, is not participating.
With the recent push to promote tourism in the Yuba-Sutter area, we are concerned organizations like the chamber and the arts council aren't involved in helping plan and stage Bok Kai.
We know the economy has been rough the last few years. We are hopeful more businesses and groups like the Chamber of Commerce and arts council can find themselves in a position to help support the event and promote themselves.
The Yuba-Sutter area has seen many events come and go, including the California Prune Festival, the Yuba City Cultural Celebration and Beckwourth Frontier Days. For a region that wants to focus on tourism, it would be a shame to let an event like Bok Kai slowly slip away for want of participation.
Enough of that: Go to the parade. Participate in the events. Have a great weekend. And to those working so hard to keep the tradition going, we offer our thanks.