Celebrating the Vietnamese New Year with the UVSA Tet Festival

A crowd waits to get in to the festival. (Karrie Comfort/Contributor)

By Karrie Comfort  Contributor

I blinked a few times.

“Jessy. Hey Jessy,” I called.

I waved my friend over to help the elderly man at the information booth who had started speaking to me in rapid Vietnamese. 

I am half Mexican and half black. I don’t speak Vietnamese yet. 

This was my first Tet Festival – both as an attendee and as a member of a Union of Vietnamese Student Associations committee. 

The UVSA was hosting Tet—one of the largest Lunar New Year celebrations and the largest in the United States—for its 35th year, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it.

Caught up in all of the excitement, most people attending the festival only see the results of nearly four months of planning, stressing, and executing. 

They see all of the colorful costumes, the parades, and the celebration of their heritage in a dazzling three day event. 

Before the celebration comes the marketing and during it comes three days filled with over 50,000 attendees.

“You really take for granted the work it takes,” said University of California, Los Angeles graduate Jessy Nguyen. 

In regards to being both an attendee and a committe member like me, she explained that she honestly loved “both sides” of the event. 

“You stay late nights and you really get to form a bond with the people that you work with.”

One of the many buildings constructed for Tet. (Karrie Comfort/Contributor)

One of those people is Marketing Committee Director Tony Phan. 

He had been working on the Tet Festival for months. 

“Since I was involved on the logistics and operations last year, my planning sort of started at that point,” Phan explained. 

“Patrons would tell me both good and bad things and I started to think about things we could improve . . . for next year’s festival.”

For some volunteers, not only was it an opportunity to help plan an awesome event, but it was one of their best experiences learning about their Vietnamese culture.

A sophomore at California State University, San Bernardino Jenny Phan commented on how UVSA helped her get more connected on her campus.

“I needed to be involved in something . . . I saw UVSA and I thought, ‘Why not?’” she said with a laugh. 

“It was my way of contributing, and if anything I’m more in touch with my culture now than ever before.”

Flash back to my language predicament. 

I  am quite visibly not Vietnamese. 

I was deathly afraid of not fitting in at this festival where an overwhelming majority of its participants were Vietnamese. 

However, I was pleasantly surprised. There were a number of other attendees and UVSA members who weren’t Vietnamese, but like me, were simply interested in the culture and experience.

“I like how inclusive everyone is, regardless of whether or not you are Vietnamese,” said previous California State University Northridge student Johnny Guerrero. 

“It’s like a family, you just come, support, and show interest . . . if you show that respect, you will be respected.”

And it was really true. 

The only time I felt awkward, even for a second, was when someone tried to address me in Vietnamese. 

Hardly a bad thing! 

A parade makes its way through the crowd. (Karrie Comfort/Contributor)

Tet Festival was an experience for everyone.

“Yes, Tet itself is a holiday in the Vietnamese culture, however . . . it is marketed to everyone because there is no better feeling that being able to share the culture with everyone,” Phan said. 

“I think everyone has one universal language—food!”

To me, the most important thing about Tet Festival was that it was a learning and growing experience, in more ways than one. 

Not only did committee members come out of their team having a better grasp of marketing techniques and the Tet festival itself, but of why they still continue this tradition, year after year.

UVSA committee member Julie Huynh said: “I am reminded every year—to remember my roots . . . People tell me on the phone lines, or in person, that they always come to support the youth and that they’re so proud of us for doing this . . . It makes me never want to let them down, knowing the magnitude of faith and support people have in us.” 


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