A pair of toddlers stayed close to their mother as they watched transfixed as the satin animals with open mouths and blinking eyes raced down North 10th Street to the beat of a martial drum beat in a dance of the traditional lion.

The Mid-Autumn Festival returned to Chinatown on Saturday, live and on the streets after two years of virtual events, a chance for Asian Americans in the Philadelphia area to reconnect in a celebration of the noisy harvest thousands of years old.

And the event also known as the Moon Festival served to rally the community to fight, once again, for its existence – this time against a proposal to build a new 76ers arena that would adjoin the southern edge of one of the last authentic Chinatowns left in the United States.

“It’s more than a business district, a place to eat and buy things. It’s a cultural hub,” said Wei Chen, 30, director of civic engagement for Asian Americans United, the festival’s sponsor and an activist group that defeated a plan to build a new stadium. from the Phillies to Chinatown in 2000, then pushed back on a casino project. In 2008.

READ MORE: Big plans like the Sixers’ arena plan have often threatened Philadelphia’s Chinatown. But the AAPI community is still fighting for the neighborhood.

The T-shirts offered at the Asian Americans United booth succinctly told the story in English and Chinese: No arena in Chinatown. Above, the words stadium and casino have been crossed out. By early afternoon, the group said it had collected 4,500 signatures on a petition opposing the 76ers’ new home.

At another table, volunteers tied pieces of construction paper around a dragon’s body made of a flexible air duct and a felt head, each with an anti-arena message. Do not colonize Chinatown. Keep our culture. 76ers out of Chinatown. 76ers suck. Etc.

“Why demolish a place with so much history and culture? He’s been here a long time,” said Jacqueline Tan, 16, a Central High School student who volunteers at the festival. She distributed construction paper and black markers in front of the dragon table.

Bella Li, 16, lives in Chinatown, and she too was soliciting anti-arena posts. “It will be the main attraction, instead of people coming to experience Chinatown and learning about our culture and traditions,” Li said.

William Tung, who lives in Kingsessing, recalled that when an arena for the NBA Wizards and NHL Capitals was built in downtown Washington’s Chinatown, it was touted as a chance to revitalize the neighborhood. Instead, other businesses replaced stores and restaurants.

“There is no more community,” Tung said. “The only thing that would make you realize this is a Chinatown is that there is a zoning rule that says street and commercial signs must be written in Chinese characters.”

Debbie Wei, one of the founders of Asian Americans United, said she was grateful her children had grown up experiencing the Mid-Autumn Festival, which was founded in 1996 by a group of students who were sad that many of their grandparents, who still lived in China, could not celebrate with them, and also that the elders in the neighborhood were missing a community festival.

Wei, who is 65, immigrated to Philadelphia with his parents, who were busy working hard.

“I knew they got sad one night every year, that they lacked family in China, and that we had special mooncakes, but I had no idea what the festival meant,” she said. .

His daughter, Kaia Chou, continues the activist tradition with her best friend, Taryn Flaherty.

“Our mothers were comrades in blocking the casino,” said Chou, 20, a third-year student at Bryn Mawr College. “We remember going to Council meetings and demonstrations. Now we are students fighting the same fight.'”

Flaherty, 19, is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania and said the developer working on the Sixers arena “made his fame and wealth through the gentrification of West Philly”.

She is determined to prevent this from happening to Chinatown, as the friends’ mothers put an end to further potential damage to the community.

“We want to protect them like they protected us,” Flaherty said.

Says Wei: “The 76ers haven’t seen us in fight mode yet.”