The United States Postal Service unveiled its first commemorative stamp of the year with a first-day-of-issue ceremony at the Wing Luke Museum on January 5. The stamp unveiling brought in a full audience to the museum’s community hall, where a succinct half hour program took place before the curtains parted to reveal a large version of the stamp’s artwork. This year’s stamp features a detailed, vibrantly colored rooster adorning a traditional hongbao, or red envelope. The Rooster stamp is the tenth in a series of twelve stamps celebrating the Lunar New Year.
The commemorative event began with an address by the museum’s executive director, Beth Takekawa, who shared the story of her father’s lifelong career with the Postal Service after Japanese incarceration during World War II. It was hard for Japanese Americans to find work after the end of WWII, but Takekawa’s father found a job at USPS.
Whenever the family took their summer road trips, Takekawa’s father would not allow the kids to stop for a bathroom break. However, he’d halt the car at every post office they passed to take a photograph.
“Us kids, we would whine ‘Dad, not again!’ And then he would jump out and say ‘just a minute, just a minute!’ But it always seemed to take many minutes because the lens cap would fall off, and the camera always seemed to jam,” Takekawa recalled.
The audience warmly received Takekawa’s story.
Throughout the program, speakers reiterated the importance of not only the stamp, but the commemorative stamp’s importance in acknowledging a multicultural American society that is vocal and proud of its heritages.
Greg G. Graves, Vice President of Area Operations for the Western Area for USPS, served as the event’s dedicating official. Before the stamp’s unveiling, he emphasized the USPS’s commitment to celebrating diversity and multiculturalism.
“Stamps are often called a nation’s calling card,” he said. “That’s a vital part of our mission. We issue the stamps to demonstrate our country’s deep regard for multicultural heritage.”
The history of the Wing as well as the International District is a meaningful example of this multicultural heritage. Takekawa noted it was “not common” and special to have the cultural narrative and history of an American immigrant community highlighted in an institution such as a museum. “So this ceremony is about a stamp, but it means a lot more than that. The Wing Luke Museum is honored to host the ceremony,” said Takekawa.
The last time a USPS Lunar New Year stamp was released in Seattle was during the year of the tiger, in 1998. Assunta Ng, founder and publisher of Northwest Asian Weekly and The Seattle Chinese Post, spoke a few words about why Seattle is a fitting place to release the stamp. Though Seattle doesn’t have as sizeable an Asian population as Hawaii or New York, she said that “the Seattle Asian community is very strong in achievement … and we are very strong in collaboration.”
The final speaker of the event was the artist and illustrator of this year’s rooster stamp, Kam Mok. Born in Hong Kong and raised in New York’s Chinatown, his aim was to present a nuanced symbol of the Chinese New Year for the USPS stamp’s image; he wanted to go beyond simply picturizing the animal, a rooster, on the stamp.
To do this, Mok reached back into his memories as a child and landed on a meaningful object: the hongbao.
“The red envelope is one of the joyous [traditions]. Its one of those things that all the kids, when we give them an envelope, it will give them a big smile. One thing I often [did] that I was always told not to [was] to peek inside the envelope to see how much money [I] got,” Mok said.
The stamp features the Rooster upon the red envelope, complete with traditional gold lettering. The stamp is meant to embody all the well wishes of the Lunar New Year; energy, vitality and of course, good luck.