published Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Vietnamese mark Year of the Dragon

  • photo
    Vivi Nguyen, left, goes through the food line with Tammy Hong as members of the Vietnamese community gather Sunday for a Tet celebration at the American Legion Post 95 in East Ridge.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
    enlarge photo

Along with welcoming the new year, the Vietnamese holiday of Tet is when families and friends get together — something they may not get to do very often.

“Vietnamese are very hard-working people, so they don’t get a lot of chances to get together,” said Tina Nguyen.

But many Vietnamese made the time Sunday for the annual celebration at American Legion Post 95 on Ringgold Road. The official beginning of the year is today.

“This is the most important holiday for us,” said Nguyen, 26, who moved to Chattanooga from Vietnam in 1994.

This year more than 400 people attended the feast, which includes dozens of traditional dishes, music, games and beauty pageants because it’s the Year of the Dragon.

“This is a very lucky year,” said Kham Nam, 52, one of the organizers. “It’s the top animal.”

It is said that children born in the year of the dragon are very special and successful.

People from as far as Alabama, Atlanta, Knoxville and Nashville joined the local Vietnamese community for the festive gathering.

About a dozen veterans of the South Vietnamese army, wearing green camouflage uniforms and red berets, sang along to patriotic songs from their homeland.

One of those men is Nguyen’s father, Kham Nguyen, 65.

For him, celebrating the new year is a way to make sure younger generations don’t forget their ancestors.

And he wears the uniform, he said, so they remember what their fathers and grandfathers did for them.

Yellow flags with three red stripes — the Southern Vietnamese flag — and flowers decorated the stage.

Many women were dressed in the traditional ao dai, colorful, tight-fitting silk tunics over pants usually worn for formal affairs. But whether in Vietnamese or Western clothing, everyone was dressed for a party.

Carolyn Thomas has joined her Vietnamese neighbors in the celebration for the last two years. She even helped judge the beauty pageant this time.

“It’s just fun,” she said. “They treat you like you are one of them, and the dresses are so beautiful.”

Nguyen remembers as a youngster celebrating the new year with firecrackers and her father making Bánh tét [sticky rice cakes with pork wrapped in a banana leaf].

“I remember waking up and he was still cooking,” she said.

Though the celebrations in the United States are a little bit different than the ones in her native country, she said she doesn’t miss Vietnam too much.

The most important part of the new year is to wish family and friends a great year, and that’s something she does here as well, she said.

about Perla Trevizo...

Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...

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