As a child of Asian immigrant parents, seeing positive reflections of Asian culture in the larger community has always been important to me. Growing up I loved the Harbin Gate and felt very proud to see such a beautiful cultural symbol stand so tall and prominent. I remember my mom telling my brother and I about the legend behind the two Chinese guardian lions - 1 female and 1 male, and how they offer protection from negative energy. After going for Dim Sum on Sundays, we would walk under the gate, climb up and put our hands inside the lion's mouth. Meanwhile my mom would say a silent prayer and rub the ball under the male lion's paw. These are powerful memories for me for many reasons. Upon reflecting on it now, being able to publicly practice ritual from my culture (which is different from the predominant one) was a proud and significant moment for me - especially when, back then, my "asian-ness" was not widely accepted/understood. Questions like "why does your lunch smell like that?" were common and often had me asking my mom if I could have a "normal" ham and cheese sandwich for lunch instead.
Earlier this summer as I was walking under the gate, I saw an Indigenous man bow his head in reverence and say a few silent words to the lion as he rubbed the ball under it's paw. Like my mother years ago, he was seeking divine guidance or protection. After he was finished we caught eyes and smiled a knowing smile about what had just transpired. The Harbin Gate was a powerful and significant symbol of culture and friendship between two cities. More than that though, it was a place where Asian immigrants could feel included and visible within the larger community. For me, the lions represented a safe place where I could publicly practice, and be proud of, my cultural rituals - and for that, I will always remember the courage those lions gave me.