I didn’t know what Chinese New Year was like until I was 14. We had always celebrated
quietly at our home in Calcutta. Oranges, red purses, large red characters signifying good luck and fortune were about all I knew about the celebrations of the New Year.
Then my brother went to Tangra to join a lion dance troupe. Precocious, I went with him and stayed at his friend’s home. It was an all-night party. Firecrackers popped all night, the smell of gunpowder hung over the fetid air of Tangra. My host had food everywhere: on the big round table, end tables, at the altar. It was a season of excesses, many of which I learned at the expense of other events the rest of the year.
I had to ask my mother, Li Yue Hua. For as long as I could remember we didn’t celebrate the Chinese New Year. The raw excitement, the smell of incense and firecrackers, drums and gongs—why did we not celebrate the new year? She finally told me that year that my family was interned on New Year’s Day following the 1962 war with China, on January 25, 1963. I asked...