After COVID-19 sank the oldest and largest dragon boat event in the United States last year, the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival returned to Flushing Meadows Corona Park on Saturday, Aug. 7, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Usually, the festival, which draws thousands of visitors during “normal” times, takes place over two days with more than 120 boats honoring the legend of Qu Yuan, a poet and court minister who lived from 339-278 BC. Qu Yuan drowned himself in the Ni Lo River to protest the emperor’s policies. In an attempt to save his life, local fishermen raced toward him, splashing their paddles and beating drums to drive fish and water dragons away.
Qu Yuan’s tragic death marked the beginning of dragon boat racing and is commemorated each year on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.
With the public’s health in mind, only the fully vaccinated and those with proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the event were allowed to attend the free sporting and multicultural festival, which also featured a ribbon-cutting ceremony with elected officials and VIPs and traditional Chinese art performances on the main stage in the enclosed Model Airplane Field.
Eighteen teams competed in the morning and afternoon sessions for trophies and cash. Listening to the rhythmic bangs of the drummer heading the boat, paddlers raced across the lake in colorful boats adorned with dragon heads at the front and tails at the back.
The team representing the Queens borough president’s office, “Queens Rising,” and the team representing the mayor’s office, “City Hall Dragons,” competed in a special race for bragging rights, with “Queens Rising” emerging victoriously.
For Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, the event and his team’s win proved that Queens emerged from the pandemic stronger than ever.
“It was such a thrill to participate in this year’s Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival, one of Queens’ most iconic and beloved cultural celebrations. After the pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s event, seeing the festival return in style this weekend with teams and families from across Queens participating proved that our borough is coming back stronger than ever,” Richards said. “If you need more proof, ask the City Hall Dragons. Queens Rising is more than just the name of our victorious race team. After all, it’s our mantra coming out of the pandemic.”
On land, the Chinese Music Ensemble of New York entertained the crowd on the main stage before the opening ceremony.
Henry Wan, chairman of the Hong Kong Dragon Festival, was joined by VIPs and elected officials, including Congresswoman Grace Meng, Queens DA Melinda Katz and Councilman Peter Koo, for the festival’s opening.
He shared that they brought back the festival this year with three goals in mind: Celebrating the comeback after COVID, supporting the small business recovery and addressing the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.
Seeing all the happy faces, the chairman, who is looking forward to celebrating the 30th anniversary in style next year, said, “That’s what it is all about. When we first started two months ago, you know, we weren’t sure what the result would be. But the fully vaccinated procedure works and a lot of people did show up today.”
Congresswoman Grace Meng wished the teams good luck “in the spirit of friendly competition.”
“I’m glad to see that everyone can be here safely,” Meng said. “And I hope you continue to stay safe and healthy.”
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz was excited about the return of the race and the celebration of diversity. She also encouraged everyone to report incidents of hate crimes.
“Do not be afraid,” Katz said. “We are an office who cares deeply about protecting the victims. We do not care about documentation. We do not care about any other issues that anybody has. All we care about is our we are protecting the citizens of Queens County.”
Councilmember Peter Koo thanked the sponsors, including presenting sponsor HSBC Bank USA, for their support.
“It’s important to continue our heritage, our culture,” Koo emphasized. “Dragon boat racing is one of the cultures we have in Asia. I want to congratulate all the participants, whether win or lose.”
Joseph Xu attended the festival with his 2-year-old son Abraham and enjoyed Dance China NY’s performances, CASYM Steel Orchestra and NY Shaolin Temple Kung Fu Association. Xu said it was great to see the community come out and celebrate the Chinese culture in a safe environment.
“We are a community. It’s good to see each other,” Xu said. “And at this event, since everybody is vaccinated, it’s safe. So we feel very good about it.”