The other day, Professor Kam Mak’s latest U.S. Postal Service Lunar New Year stamp arrived on my desk. This is the 10th stamp he has designed for the USPS in its Lunar New Year series—and it is, as usual, brilliant.
Kam was selected by the USPS in 2008 to design a 12-year series of stamps to commemorate the Lunar New Year and it makes me very proud to see his beautiful, inventive illustrations get the broad national attention they deserve.
For this year’s stamp, Kam developed a design featuring a gorgeous rooster, the 2017 animal of the year in the Chinese zodiac, in multi-colored plumage amid pink flowers on the front of a red envelope.
I am privileged, because Kam has shared first-edition sheets of stamps with me every year since he began making them back in 2008. In fact, if you ever visit my office, you will see the 2008 stamps—featuring festive red lanterns—framed on my back wall. But my personal favorite in the series, which is also framed on the wall, is the 2009 edition with its elaborate lion’s head in bold greens and blacks.
The red envelope in this year’s stamp represents the New Year tradition in many East Asian and Southeast Asian cultures in which married couples give children in their extended families red envelopes that contain money to celebrate the holiday.
The tradition has special meaning for Kam. As an immigrant who arrived in New York’s Chinatown from Hong Kong at age 10, he found himself in the third grade with no English language skills. As he has said, learning English was difficult—and for him, times were hard. But the red envelope tradition always put a big smile on his face. It meant happy times.
What I appreciate about the stamps, aside from their beauty, is that the stories they tell build bridges among cultures—and that has always been important to Kam. People in our country see his stamp and want to know what the images mean and why the traditions they represent are important in other cultures. The red envelope tradition is one Kam continues today. Rumor has it that he just got new, fresh bills from the bank to put in envelopes for his children, nieces and nephews.