When the Dragon Boats return to Meadow Lake in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park on August 7 and 8, they will race for more than prize money and glory – they will also race to celebrate the competition’s 20th year as a Queens tradition.
Henry Wan, Chair of the Host Committee for the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival of New York (HKDB-NY), said that the tradition’s roots are planted deeply in Queens. And the large Asian population of the borough is ready to display their culture to the city at large.
“It is an honor that this important cultural event takes place in Queens,” said Wan. “Queens has the largest Chinese population in the city and we are proud to honor our culture by recognizing it with the festival that takes place in the Year of the Tiger.”
The festival is a contest involving more than 150 teams from throughout the world who will be competing for $20,000 in cash and prizes during this unique, multicultural New York event.
Besides the races on the water, many landlocked activities await the thousands of visitors expected to descend upon the park for the festival. Chinese culture will be on display with music, performances, food vendors and much more.
Borough President Helen Marshall, who visited China this year, said that the spirit of cultural appreciation awakened with this festival should remain alive and well, even after the race has concluded.
“I was in China this year and told the people that we have been holding this event in Queens for the past 20 years,” Marshall said. “They were so excited and proud that their beloved tradition was continued here in New York.”
Marshall attended an awakening ceremony on the steps of Borough Hall in Kew Gardens on July 13, where she was joined by Buddhist monks and lion dancers from the World Chan Buddhist Association.
The Buddhist monk conducted the ancient ceremony of dotting the dragons’ eyes to wake them up and ready them for battle. It was the second such ceremony – the first being in New York’s Central Park on July 1 – honoring this great tradition.
Dragon Boat racing is based on the legend of ancient poet Qu Yuan, a court minister who advocated reforms for his home state of Chu. The King of Chu banished him for his beliefs, leading him to drown himself in the Ni Lo River to protest against his emperor’s policies.
Legend has it that local fisherman raced out on the river to save him, beating drums to prevent fish from eating his body. This was the beginning of Dragon Boat Racing.
The history and tradition of the festival cannot be denied and Marshall encourages the people of Queens to experience the history, competition and culture of the Dragon Boat Festival.
“When you see Queens, you see the world,” said Marshall. “For a generation now, this unique annual event in our flagship park unites centuries of Chinese cultural traditions with Queens’ recognition as the most diverse county in America.”