Families with adopted children gathered for the first time in Asia Garden’s new location to continue their tradition of celebrating Chinese New Year.
Cassandra Stephenson, USA Today Network Tennessee
Red paper lanterns dotted the walls of Asia Garden in Jackson Monday night as the restaurant filled with families with adopted children, some dressed in traditional clothing in celebration of Chinese New Year.
Monday marked the last day of the year of the dog, according to the Chinese zodiac. It also marked the largest gathering of families since the West Tennessee Adoption Group and Asia Garden started working together to celebrate the holiday more than a decade ago.
“It’s grown every year,” Joy Yeh, wife of Asia Garden owner Eddie Yeh, said. “I think this year may be a record.”
More than 100 people gathered to celebrate for the first time in the restaurant’s new location. Some of the families in attendance have been coming to the event since its beginning, while others are new to the celebration or in the middle of a years-long adoption process.
Allison Williams and her family first came to the dinner in 2016 after adopting their daughter Joy. The Williams family, from Huntingdon, has five children, two of whom were adopted from China.
“We just knew that there were children out there that needed a family and we were looking to grow our family, so it was just a perfect fit,” Williams said of their decision to adopt.
This is the Williams’ second time celebrating with other families at Asia Garden.
“It’s just a big part of their lives that came with them, so we just celebrate with them,” Williams said.
Joe Gill has two daughters and a son that he and his wife adopted from China. They have been involved with the dinner since it started.
“When my kids came here, they were very tiny, and now my kids are the older kids of the group,” Gill said.
He said he enjoys seeing the families that return year after year. Because some families travel to Jackson from cities like Dyersburg, Memphis and Paris, the annual celebration may be the only time they see each other each year.
“It’s nice to see how these kids are growing, how they’ve developed and how they’ve flourished being here,” Gill said.
Gill’s daughter Emily, now a teenager, said she enjoys watching the smaller children grow up, as well as meeting new people coming in.
“It’s good to come and meet new Chinese kids who have been adopted that have come over and just to experience it all together, because we’re adopted so young, so it’s really nice to carry on our culture and just keep it going,” Emily said.
Connie Perry, who organized the event this year, started bringing her son to celebrate Chinese New Year at Asia Garden the first year she brought him home. Emily met Perry’s son when he was 3 years old, the day after he arrived in the United States. He’s now 8.
Perry said that the bond the children form over the years, as well as the connection to Chinese culture, make the event special.
“The kids are really bonded with each other,” Perry said. “We can be out somewhere and they recognize them from Chinese New Year, and they have that connection and it’s very sweet.”
Joe Gill added that the dinner creates bonds between the parents as well. Some of the children these families adopt have unique medical needs. Joe’s son has had surgery for a cleft palate. Joe and his wife did not have to face the stresses that came with the operation alone.
“When our son had surgery, it was a seven-hour operation,” Gill explained. “If you (only) saw the text messages come in from the vast majority of people sitting in this room tonight — everybody’s brought into this. It’s just something kind of special.”
Dave and Marjie Pjontek adopted their daughter Allie Mei as an infant. She’s now 20 and attending college, so she was not able to come to Asia Garden this year.
“Even though she’s not here, we decided to come anyway,” Marjie said.
They were among the first families to attend the dinner. Marjie, who teaches at Community Montessori, enjoys seeing some of her students at the celebration. She and Dave have created connections with the families there. It’s tradition.
This is the result that brings joy to Kathy Yeh, who helped start Asia Garden 34 years ago and who started the dinner tradition by reaching out to the West Tennessee Adoption Group.
“We’re happy to do this,” Kathy said. “We see a lot of kids grow up, and we see a lot of families, so that’s nice.”
Reach Cassandra Stephenson at email@example.com or at (731) 694-7261. Follow Cassandra on Twitter at @CStephenson731.
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