To Chin, who began working with the parade organization 20 years ago, flak about the Chinese Chamber of Commerce's role in city politics seems to be merely one of many sources of contentious noise.

He's in a constant struggle against schlock. Chin has to help decide whether Shriners, cheerleaders, and their ilk are allowed in. In the mid-1980s, the parade began accepting corporate sponsors; over time, this has meant waving away cigarette companies and some casinos. In 2006, the religious group Falun Gong sued to gain admission to the parade and lost.

Chin has also attempted to restore cultural authenticity. This year's event will feature elaborate floats — each costing as much as $15,000 to make, produced in consultation with sponsors to exude proper Chineseness — along with lion dancers, costumed elementary school groups, a 250-foot golden dragon, and a dancing troupe from Guangdong province.

As a relatively assimilated Chinese-American, Chin is in a good position to understand the tastes of his audience. He speaks no Mandarin, and a smattering of Cantonese. He previously hadn't fancied himself a culture vulture: "I'm an American-born Chinese. And I'm responsible for cultural preservation."

That activity, too, draws flak. As if to herald the parade's arrival as a significant American cultural phenomenon, in 2008 the University of California Press published a book titled Making An American Festival: Chinese New Year in San Francisco's Chinatown.

Author Chiou-Ling Yeh, an assistant history professor at San Diego State University, described how the parade it became a way for Chinese-Americans to manipulate their own public image — in sometimes flawed ways. Yeh's laments include commercialism, nostalgia obsession, and a failure to recognize the modern evolution of Chinese cultures here and abroad.

After reading Yeh's book, I ask Chin: Why go for old-fashioned fantasy? Why not depict Chinese culture in its real-life modern form? He answers with a good-natured lesson on globalization. "Cheerleaders are really big in Asia right now. They have cheerleading schools in Asia," he says. "But I'm not having cheerleaders."

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