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Ringing in the Chinese New Year with a troupe of adopted girls

Autumn Hilley, head of the dragon, leads a group of young adopted Chinese girls on Sunday at Panda Garden Restaurant during a celebration of Chinese New Year in Steamboat Springs. The girls’ families get together every year near the Chinese New Year to help the girls celebrate their country of birth.
Joel Reichenberger





Autumn Hilley, head of the dragon, leads a group of young adopted Chinese girls on Sunday at Panda Garden Restaurant during a celebration of Chinese New Year in Steamboat Springs. The girls’ families get together every year near the Chinese New Year to help the girls celebrate their country of birth.
Joel Reichenberger

— Autumn Hilley, 10, and her younger sister, Lauren, 7, can’t remember their days in China.

Autumn was 18 months old when she was adopted by Steamboat Springs residents Steve and Rebecca Hilley. Lau­ren, from a different part of the country, was 13 months old.

Despite having spent nearly their entire lives in the United States, they considered it important to celebrate the Chinese New Year at Panda Garden Restaurant in Steamboat Springs on Sunday.



“It’s important. It’s a part of the Chinese culture,” Autumn said. “It’s important for us so you don’t forget about it.”

Nearly two dozen young Chinese girls who had been adopted by Steamboat Springs-area parents crowded into the dining room at Panda Garden on Sunday night, joined by their families.



They dined on Chinese food, and the girls ran laps around the restaurant with a large cardboard dragon. They celebrated the way little girls from any country do: with games, giggles and a few treats.

“We try to get all the kids together. We’ve been doing it for four or five years now,” Steve Hilley said. “We try to get them together to celebrate the new year and to celebrate their heritage.

“This is where these kids are from. It’s what’s in their genes and we try to carry a little of that through. Sometimes it’s tough. Learning Chinese, that’s tough. But this we can do. It celebrates the kids, their heritage, their adoption and how much we all love them.”

The opportunity was not lost on the girls, who seized the opportunity to meet and play with other adopted children.

“You get to interact with more Chinese people,” Piper Eivins, 8, said. “We’re from the same country, so it’s fun. We get along with them.”

The group continues to expand and included one new family this year.

“It’s truly a unique bond,” said Kristin Hager, who has two adopted Chinese daughters, Annie, 7, and Elizabeth, 5. “We keep growing.

“It’s hard, in this community, to learn about Chinese culture, but it’s important for the girls.”


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