Ta attributes people’s beliefs (or lack of belief) in the Chinese zodiac less to their age group, ethnicity or immigrant generation and more to their upbringing and the community they keep.
“The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes” is a family affair for Lau. Her late mother, Theodora, wrote the first edition in 1979 because she was giving informal consultations in Hong Kong and realized all of the English-language books on the subject were written by Westerners. The illustrations are by Laura Lau’s father, Kenneth Lau.
“My mom’s perspective was, ‘Hey, if you’re having a problem, if you’re not getting along with your neighbor or a co-worker, you should really do some introspection and research on your side,’” she said.
Her mother saw horoscopes as an entry point to making thoughtful decisions. It was about learning how to get along with people who are different from you.
“She’d say, ‘You have to be flexible. Some of these signs, you have to give them compliments. Other signs, you can’t just pop a question at the last minute. You have to work up to it,’” said Lau.
A sampling of people born in Tiger years
Lou Diamond Phillips
Queen Elizabeth II
Ta said that a lot of these superstitions are derived from philosophies of Buddhism and Taoism, mixed together with feng shui, folklore and mythology. Even if you go from northern China to southern China, there are stark differences between what is considered lucky and unlucky, she said. And especially in the U.S., where Lunar New Year is celebrated across Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Singaporean, Japanese and other diasporas, traditions get blended together.
Stephen Cronin, a tiger, was raised in an Irish Catholic family. He began observing the Lunar New Year after he married his wife, who is Chinese and Korean. She makes a habit of serving longevity noodles each year.
“I now have access to more traditions important to so many people around the globe,” said Cronin, an electrical engineering and physics professor at USC.
Their son, Alistair Cronin, 11, is also a tiger, but he wishes he “got the sign that’s the fishes” — folding in Pisces from the Western zodiac — rather than the year of the jungle cat. That’s due to his love of fishing, a sport that’s taken him to Catalina Island, Hawaii and Mexico. He’s caught mahimahi, mackerel and tilapia.
He knows that tigers “are strong and brave, and I have very strong opinions, like I don’t support commercial fishing because pieces go to waste.”
“But I’m not so brave,” said the sixth-grader at South Pasadena Middle School.
When Alex Wong was 11, his parents took him to a temple and bought him a pig pendant he wore around his neck for the entire Year of the Tiger — to help him avoid “frivolous accidents,” his dad said.
By the time Wong was 23, during his next Year of the Tiger, he didn’t believe in Fan Tai Sui anymore. But he acknowledged that 2010 was the year that he ruptured his Achilles tendon on national television, prematurely ending his much-hyped run on “So You Think You Can Dance.”
“It definitely sucked at the time, but I think it left a mark for people to remember me,” he said. “It gave me a good American underdog story, and it helped put me in places I wouldn’t have been. I wouldn’t have had my Broadway debut if I hadn’t snapped my Achilles.”
Looking back, he said he wouldn’t change anything.
“So then is it bad luck? Or is it good luck?”