By Brittney Le
Orange County native and UCLA student Austin Nguyen doesn’t speak Vietnamese as well as he once did. The American-born Vietnamese American has slowly lost the native language of his parents. He comes to the Tet Festival in Orange County, home to more Vietnamese Americans than any other county in the United States, to reconnect with his roots. This year he performed a traditional Vietnamese dance with a team from UCLA in the festival’s dance competition.
“It is an honor to be able to show the greater OC community that our culture is thriving,” he told AsAmNews. “Through traditional dance, I get to be a part of a tradition that my mother never thought I would have the chance to experience since immigrating to the United States. I think this opportunity to be a part of this celebration is a great way to still feel connected to my roots.”
Tết, the Vietnamese celebration of the Lunar New Year, is a very important holiday in which families gather to eat, play games, and wish each other good fortune for the new year. Many Buddhist Vietnamese also go to temple to pray.
The 36th Annual Tết Festival held this past weekend is an amazing culmination of culture. What many find appealing about the festival is the strong ties to Vietnamese heritage. With lots of food, fun attractions, competitions, and performances, the Tet Festival is a uniquely Vietnamese American experience. Vietnamese immigrants also get a little taste of the homeland that they left. In addition, it gives many non-Vietnamese the opportunity to better understand a community that has been thriving over the past several decades.
Chinese American Kevin Lam went to the Tết Festival for the 7th time this year. For him, Chinese New Year has typically been more about the celebration. However, he sees the Tết Festival as a highly culture-oriented experience. He admired the amount of diversity the festival brought.
“I noticed that this year, many people who weren’t of Asian descent came out to partake in the festivities,” he said.
Orange County native Misha Nguyen cherished her experience at the Tết Festival. She is involved with the Vietnamese Student Association at California State University, Long Beach. She is even on the student group’s dance team, LBVSA Modern, which ended up taking first place in the dance competition at the festival.
“Performing with my team was amazing. Everyone who was a part of this set, whether it be choreographing, dancing, or just supporting, helped put this together. Our time on the stage was phenomenal. I loved everyone’s energy before, during, and after the performance. It always serves as a reminder of why I love this team so much, because we put out everything we have for ourselves and for each other,” she said.
Her commitment to organizations on campus and her participation in the festival have expanded her involvement in the Vietnamese American community. “I thought last year was my peak for the festival, but I got to spend this year at Tết Festival with two different families I’ve found over the last year through VSA and UVSA and I couldn’t be happier with my experience there.”
While Austin Nguyen performed traditional dance, LBVSA Modern showed more contemporary and hip-hop vibes. It isn’t so much the style of dance that allows these young Vietnamese Americans the ability to reconnect to their heritage – it is the communities that support their involvement and the events such as the Tết Festival that immerse them into their histories. This festival gave these performers, among many other Vietnamese Americans, the chance to revive their community ties in their own unique ways.
“I love the fact that even though the festival is all fun and games with sponsors, food, and carnival rides, it can still maintain the cultural aspect of Tết, said Misha Nguyen. “They keep up Làng Việt Nam so well, and the different things that remind us of our culture as first, second, or even third generation Vietnamese Americans are there and helps serve as a reminder of the culture we have.”
The Tết Festival is just one of the few ways that many Vietnamese Americans are able to reconnect to their heritage. As many in the second generation begin to lose their language, including myself, I have come to realize how difficult it is to maintain transnational ties to the motherland that our parents left behind. As a U.S.-born Vietnamese American, I hope to never lose those roots. The Tết Festival, along with many other traditional Vietnamese celebrations, allows me to remember that I have a community that is willing to support me and nurture my continued linkages to my culture.
As the Lunar New Year comes to a close, we must remind ourselves of the ties we have to our past, so that we may never forget the ethnic histories that make us who we are today.
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