Arts & Life

Rain or shine, Little Saigon continues to celebrate Tết

In the front of the Asian Garden Mall, Vietnamese bands perform live music.
In the front of the Asian Garden Mall, a variety of modern and classic Vietnamese songs are performed live for locals to enjoy. Photo credit: Julia Goldman

Live music, new year wishes and the smoke from Vietnamese street food filled the front of Little Saigon’s Asian Garden Mall for the annual Tết Flower Festival on Thursday, Feb. 1.

Tết symbolizes a reunion with family, a remembrance of ancestors, the coming of spring and a celebration of the new year. The Vietnamese calendar carries a symbolic 12-year cycle, with animals being attributed to each year. This year, Tết celebrates the Year of the Dragon.

Red-striped tents framed the festival’s rain-soaked pavement, where local vendors sold a collection of Tết essentials, like traditional gifts, Vietnamese attire, decorations, flowers, red envelopes and fruit.

The 2024 Year of the Dragon Little Saigon Tết festival, on a rainy day. "Today is raining, you know, so you don’t see a lot of people, but if it’s a sunny and nice day, you see everyone here," Thuyai Troung said.
The 2024 Year of the Dragon Little Saigon Tết festival, on a rainy day. “Today is raining, you know, so you don’t see a lot of people, but if it’s a sunny and nice day, you see everyone here,” Thuyai Trương said. Photo credit: Julia Goldman

Luna Trương, a third-year engineering major at Cal State Long Beach, said that she was at the event to eat and purchase an “áo dài,” a traditional Vietnamese dress, for the Tết celebration. The festival, Trương said, was a reminder of home.

“This is part of our tradition,” Trương said. “We brought the culture here. So we bring a part of our identity with us. This is to remind us of who we are.”

At this vendor's stall, three cooks prepare different Vietnamese specialties: BBQ pork skewers, .... filled with shredded coconut and .... In the front, there are seasonal Tết items, like soursop and Bánh Tét, a savory rice cake wrapped in banana leaf.
At this vendor’s stall, three cooks prepare different Vietnamese specialties: BBQ pork skewers, cake filled with shredded coconut and pandan rice cakes. In the front, there are seasonal Tết items, like soursop and Bánh Tét, a savory rice cake wrapped in banana leaf. Photo credit: Julia Goldman

To the left of the mall, rows of vendors also offered the traditional dishes of Tết. Behind grills with flickering flames, cooks prepared BBQ pork skewers, grilled corn, rice cakes, shellfish and more.

Lâm Nguyễn, 58-year-old CSULB alumni and business owner of Kim Tháp, said that he and his wife, Hương Tiêu, have been selling food at the Tết festival for about 10 years. After arriving in the United States in 1982, graduating with a degree in computer programming in 1988 and working a series of different jobs, Nguyễn founded Kim Tháp.

After being asked if owning his own business has brought him happiness, Nguyễn said, “It makes me young. If I stay home for free, nothing to do, I’m getting old.”

Nguyễn, for the new year, said, “I wish every people to have a healthy life, happiness life, and all around the world, peace. With the kids, like you guys, have a good graduation.”

New year wishes are a culturally fundamental part of Tết’s celebration, and for eight years, Khánh Diệp has shared new year greetings with the customers at Little Saigon’s festival through her art.

Khánh Diệp, a vendor and calligrapher at the Asian Garden Mall Tết Flower Festival posing with her art. Her scroll reads: Wealth and money, New year brings happiness with friends and family, Happy life, Health, Prosperity.
Khánh Diệp, a vendor and calligrapher at the Asian Garden Mall Tết Flower Festival posing in an áo dài with her art. Her scroll reads: Wealth and money, New year brings happiness with friends and family, Happy life, Health, Prosperity. Photo credit: Julia Goldman

Her stall is lined with scrolls, gourds, sculptures and tags adorned with Diệp’s calligraphy and paintings. Diệp’s hand-drawn Vietnamese phrases bring good luck and wishes for the new year and are intended to be hung up at home for the entire year.

Though Diệp said that business has been slow this year from the cold and rainy season, she said, “I send greetings to all of my neighbors who go to the Tết market to shop there, good luck in your life, good luck on your way to making a living and may you have prosperity and happiness.”

The new year wishes in Diệp’s calligraphy are also found in Thuyai Trương’s flower stand, Beauty Me Online. Trương has been selling at the festival for almost 20 years and refers to herself as “kind of a senior here.”

Known as mứt, these platters of candied fruit and vegetables are common gifts for loved ones at Tết celebrations. Each one has its own special meaning, from wishing luck, to fortune, and more.
Known as mứt, these platters of candied fruit and vegetables are common gifts for loved ones at Tết celebrations. Each one has its own special meaning, from wishing luck, to fortune, and more. Photo credit: Julia Goldman

Trương carries chrysanthemums, new year decorations, fruit and all kinds of orchids, like cymbidium orchids. She said that she operates her business because she loves orchids and that she does it with passion.

“You know, the festival keeps growing up every year,” Trương said. “We want to keep our culture for our young generation so they know the Vietnamese new year.”

Little Saigon’s Asian Garden Mall Tết Flower Festival is running until Feb. 8 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. There is also a firecracker celebration at noon on Feb. 10, which is the official day of Tết.

This article would not be possible without the help of Binh Dang, who provided assistance in translation.

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