Central Wisconsin marks Chinese New Year as Coronavirus limits celebration in China

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- Saturday marks the start of the Lunar New Year, one of the most important days in Chinese culture.

A dance performance at the Central Wisconsin Chinese New Year celebration (WSAW Photo).

This year marked the first-ever Central Wisconsin Chinese New Year celebration at Marathon Park.

The celebration buzzed with excitement during a lively dance performance, cooking demonstration and other family activities.

"I think people can learn from this event that Wisconsin is a place that is open and welcoming," said Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes.

Lt. Gov. Barnes learned how to make dumplings during a demonstration.

"Diversity is our strength, it's what's going to move us forward, it's how we foster creativity and innovation and ultimately grow," he said. “A lot of people can look at stat sheets, look at research, and look at papers and think that Wisconsin may not be the best place for racial minority groups, but that’s not the truth.”

This new year marks a particularly fresh start.

"There are 12 zodiac animals. This year is the year of the rat, which is the beginning of the Chinese zodiac animals," said Joy Clendenning, founder of Chinese Express, teaching cooking classes and Chinese language.

But the excitement at the celebration is very different than the scene in China.

"There's no grocery store that's open, airports are shut down, the train, the markets, everywhere is closed. It’s even worse than what you see on TV and in newspapers," she said.

Because of the deadly Coronavirus outbreak, celebrations are cancelled and travel restricted for millions. Clendenning is in touch with her family and friends in her native China, and says many have not left their homes out of fear they may become sick.

"When I shared pictures of this event to my Chinese family, everybody was so jealous," she said.

It's cut into what would be a time of reunion.

"This is the only time you get to go home to see your family… this can be the only time when you see each other," she said.

Officials are quickly trying to understand and contain the disease.