The fondness of the Chinese for throwing firecrackers during the new year is not a cliché, but a well-established tradition that until not so long ago paralyzed life in the big cities of the Asian country. In Beijing, for example, the government, fed up with pyrotechnic accidents and having the city, now a global capital, blocked for a week by the roar of firecrackers, has in recent years restricted the sale and use of firecrackers, limiting the celebrations to the official launching of fireworks, with greater security measures. This was already happening in the communities of the diaspora, also in Madrid, which this year has recovered the fireworks show, after being suspended due to the coronavirus.
The Chinese colony in Madrid has been orbiting around the Usera neighborhood for years now. Of the 38,000 Chinese registered in the capital, 10,000 live here, according to municipal data. So it is usual that, when the spring festival arrives, the district is decorated with traditional red lanterns, the doors of shops are covered with auspicious messages and the Chinese aroma of the neighborhood is accentuated. In the year of the tiger, which officially began at midnight on Tuesday, the celebrations are being more contained. Although COVID has not disappeared, the City Council agreed to recover the fires to “continue strengthening ties” and promote Usera “as a point of cultural and tourist attraction”, in the words of the delegate for Culture, Andrea Levy. The decision upset some environmental groups, concerned about the effect of the noise on the fauna of the Pradolongo park, from where the fires were going to be launched.
The rest of the usual activities were kept to a minimum. In the absence of parades and markets, a wall of wishes was installed on one side of the district board building, so that those interested could post their claims for the new exercise. “The Third Republic”, pointed out one of the small signs, although, in general, in this type of folkloric manifestations political demands are not styled. This showed the general trend on this Saturday of celebration: few Chinese were seen at the Usera Chinese festivals.
“Bombetas, vendo bombetas”, announced a man, with the characteristic Valencian diminutive, next to the pond in Pradolongo park. Being very reductionist, the Valencian Community is the closest thing to China in Spain in terms of festive noise. With the Fallas falling, the man was selling firecrackers while he berated a collaborator who wasn’t giving enough of his balloon inventory. He had no competition. There were hundreds, or perhaps more than a thousand, residents gathered by the pond, most of them of peninsular or Latin American origin, all from Madrid. The fireworks show could be that of any neighborhood festival.
If firecrackers were sold, nobody threw them, in any case. Certainly not the few Chinese who dropped by the park, like Jiang Qi, 19, who is not from Usera but from Arona, in Tenerife, where there is a small immigrant community. A student in Madrid, the man was glad that the rockets were launched into the air as in his homeland, Tai’an, in the province of Shandong, in the east of the country, one of the richest. “In the globalized world it seems very good to me that we get to know each other better”, he celebrated, to go on to say that in Arona they have recently built a temple to the goddess Mazu, which could be compared, being somewhat crude and with all the cultural precautions, to the Virgen del Carmen: for some Chinese, eminently Taiwanese, Mazu watches over the seafaring communities.
It was easy to startle the few Chinese families who had approached by trying to ask if the fires reminded them of home. In some cases, the parents did not speak Spanish and the young children acted as interpreters. More determined was Jiahuan He, 19, who has been living in Usera for six years with his family, originally from the port city of Tianjin, with five times the population of Madrid. “I thought they were spectacular, excellent”, he assured after the show, which he was seeing for the first time, to finish: “I don’t know if it’s for the new year, but thanks to whoever organized it”.