Cayden Shen will be at center court Friday night for the Long Island Nets basketball game, but it’s not the hoops that have him nervous and excited — a Lunar New Year performance is making him more anxious.
"It’ll be my first basketball game, so it’ll be really cool to attend and perform," said Shen, 15. "It’s a lot of people, so of course I’m nervous."
Shen is among about 20 students from Tzu Chi Academy Long Island who will perform at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum as the Nets take on the Cleveland Charge in the NBA’s G League. The academy, which conducts classes out of Oyster Bay High School, is dedicated to teaching Chinese culture and implementing strong values in children, said the school’s principal, Richard Chuang.
The celebration of Lunar New Year, called Chinese New Year by Chinese Americans, began Tuesday. This year commemorates the Year of the Tiger, which symbolizes strength, courage and bravery. The tiger also represents a way to chase out evil spirits, according to Chinese lore.
Ming Chiang, president of Hello Taiwan — an organization that advances Taiwanese culture — who helped organize the event, joked that he hopes the Year of the Tiger can chase away the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that the game is the perfect opportunity to support a local team while also promoting Taiwanese culture.
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"I think it’s great that we can engage some of our second- and third-generation [kids] to share some of our Taiwanese heritage," said Chiang, who also sits on the board of directors of the Long Island Association, a business group.
Students from six other local Asian American schools will attend the event, Chiang added.
The performance will include the singing of the national anthem, with violinist Yu Chen (Anthony) Tseng accompanying the group.
Chen and his brother, Darren, 12, are also among a four-person group that will perform a routine using the Chinese yo-yo, a toy that dates to the early 15th century and the Ming Dynasty. For the performers, the skill takes consistent technique, strong hand-eye coordination — and patience.
Shen and Darren’s mother, Alice Lai, 44, of Roslyn, said her sons have been practicing with the Chinese yo-yo since they were in first grade. She stressed the importance of them learning Taiwanese culture and spreading it among their peers.
"That connection is very important," Lai said. "Chinese School, or foreign language school, is very rigorous, but I feel the effort is worth it."
Chuang said his students are excited about the opportunity to perform in front of a crowd after two years of virtual events because of the pandemic.
"The kids are so excited and they also want to bring joy to everyone at the game," he said. "Lunar New Year is so important for the Asian community."
In a statement, the Long Island Nets said the first 1,000 fans will receive a free T-shirt and they will auction limited-edition SpongeBob SquarePants-themed jerseys. The proceeds will be donated to Hello Taiwan.
"We are excited to use the game of basketball to unite all backgrounds and come together to commemorate the Year of the Tiger — a year that represents strength and resilience," said Alton Byrd, senior vice president of Growth Properties at BSE Global, the team’s parent company.
Darwin Yanes, a Newsday reporter since 2021, covers the Town of North Hempstead.
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