The Asian New Year does not begin until next weekend, but celebrations ushering in the Year of the Monkey have already begun in Raleigh.
The Vietnamese American Association of Raleigh hosted a two-day New Year event or Tet festival at the State Fairgrounds on Sunday, featuring traditional food, dress, dancing, martial arts and musical performances.
More than 2,000 children and adults took part in the Tet festival, an annual tradition that the association began hosting in Raleigh about 15 year ago, said spokesman Tho Nguyen.
“It’s to raise awareness of Vietnamese community and of the local events that we host and bring the community together to celebrate the traditions and cultures,” he said.
The festival opened with a flag ceremony in which both the American and Vietnamese flags were presented and their national anthems played. Nguyen stressed the importance of the ceremony, saying, “We know when we live here we have to coexist, and we welcome everybody.”
Asked if he sees any lingering bitterness from the war, he said the Vietnamese people “let bygones be bygones.”
“We are celebrating the present and the future,” Nguyen said. “This is a week to celebrate the New Year to bring everyone good health and fortune.”
Just as Americans pop midnight champagne and Southerners eat black-eyed peas and greens to celebrate the New Year, there are a number of lucky Vietnamese traditions.
Eating sticky food is supposed to bring good fortune in the New Year. Though the flavors differ throughout the country of Vietnam, one constant is sticky rice.
The society celebrated Sunday with other traditional foods such as egg and spring rolls, congee (a rice porridge) and banh mi, a pseudo sub sandwich with meat, cilantro, cucumber and pickled carrots.
A New Year tradition children look forward to most is receiving a red envelope with lucky money, something parents give only to children who are well behaved.
Leon Do’s three kids are very eager to receive their lucky New Year money. Do and his kids also participated in the taekwondo performance Sunday. He and other Vietnamese families created the group about six years ago. It all began with one instructor, and now the classes are full.
“It’s both the discipline and respect as well as speaking the Vietnamese language to help us remember our origin and remember the culture in America,” said Do, who has lived in the U.S. about 20 years and works as a computer programer.
The Vietnamese community in Raleigh now numbers in the thousands and is growing. As it does, groups of friends and families have come together to organize classes to pass on traditional arts to their children.
Hyong Rocham keeps the art of the native Vietnamese dancing alive. Rocham, 21, is studying nursing at Wake Tech and says that had she not left her home village 10 years ago, she would be a farmer.
Rocham said the indigenous Vietnamese – Montagnards – and the people living in the country today are as different as the average U.S. citizen and Native Americans. Many Montagnards come to the states as refugees.
Rocham led native Vietnamese dancing with half a dozen young women in decoratively trimmed straight black dresses. They danced with baskets, gongs and flowers telling stories of life in their home villages and the old stories of their native people.
“We try to go around and spread the news about our people,” she said. “We take our dances out there and introduce people to our culture.”