In 2008, artist Kam Mak was honored with an opportunity that finally made his mother proud: the United States Postal Service chose him to design twelve years’ worth of New Year stamps. One stamp would be released each year, and they were to feature one design for each sign in the Chinese zodiac.
“My mother could never relate to what I do for a living as an illustrator,” Mak says. “You know, the stereotype of a Chinese parent, you want your kids to be professionals. And I was not one… I was not good in math, I was not good in science. But I could draw.”
“She’s proud. I’m happy that I could do one thing. She’s so tough,” he says.
Mak, 51, was born in Hong Kong but grew up in Manhattan’s Chinatown. He now lives in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. He’s incredibly proud to be the artist chosen by the USPS for the job.
“To be given the opportunity to use my art to showcase my culture—oh my God. It’s a huge honor. It’s very cool,” he said. The Chinese New Year begins on February 10th, and it’s the Year of the Snake. Mak has composed a stunning image of a bright red firecracker string amidst a blue, white, and gold background. He chose firecrackers this year because it reminds him of childhood celebrations.
“It would start on Lunar New Year Eve, and you would hear it just continue—bap, bap, bap, bap—all night long. By the time you get up in the morning, that’s what I would do, me and my neighbors, we would run downstairs,” Mak says. “We would kick through drifts of those red papers and there were always some that missed. And we relit them… it was just a joy.”
These days, fireworks are banned in the Big Apple, but the happy memories remain.