Chúc Mừng Năm Mới...why I'm bummed out about Vietnamese New Year

Feb 10 2013 Published by under Asian Americanism

It means Happy New Year.

Today is Tết, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year and we're ringing in the Year of the Snake. And while it should be a day to celebrate, I'm bummed out for a couple of reasons--one of which is here at home and the other is all the way out in sunny California.

Now normally, I'd be spending the day with my family honoring our ancestors with offerings of food, incense, and all that good stuff. And on Tết, when I was younger, all the older members of my family would give me  lì xì, or "lucky money" in little, red envelopes--one of the benefits of being the youngest in the family. Now, it's my niece who gets all the lucky money.

lì xì envelopes

And of course, we'd eat. My mom generally prepares a delicious feast for Tết, and my favorite of all the dishes is bánh chưng, which is sort of like a square-shaped pork,mung bean, and sticky rice tamale. Nothing beats bánh chưng sliced-up, pan-fried, and served with pickled shallots and daikon. Bánh chưng is one of the  most traditional Tết dishes--the other being bánh dầy. The creation of both dishes is rooted in Vietnamese mythology, when the legendary king, Hùng Vương, held a competition to choose a successor among his sons. The son who created a dish that best honored their ancestors would assume the throne. While most of Hùng Vương's sons scoured the country for rare and exotic foods for their dishes, Lang Liêu, the poorest son, created his dishes with the simplest of ingredients. When asked about his dishes, Lang Liêu explained that the square-shaped bánh chưng represented the Earth (back when my peoples thought the Earth was square), while the circle-shaped bánh dầy represented the Heavens and that his two dishes brought harmony between Heaven and Earth. Impressed by the simplicity and symbolism of the dishes, Hùng Vương picked Lang Liêu as his successor.

Bánh chưng

Unfortunately for my family and me, "Nemo" just dumped about 2 feet of snow on us and many of the roads still haven't been cleard. So instead of celebrating with my family and enjoying bánh chưng, I'll be spending the day shoveling and digging my car out. Sorry ancestors, y'all will just have to hang tight until next weekend for your food and incense.

But really, it's what's going on in California that has me bummed out the most. While I'm stuck here in the snow, one of the largest Vietnamese communities in the US, "Little Saigon" in Westminster & Garden Grove, CA will be celebrating the New Year with a Tết parade.

Except parade organizers are not allowing Vietnamese LGBT groups to officially march in the parade. In past years, when the city of Westminster organized the parade, LGBT groups were welcome to participate officially. This year, however, since the city was financially unable to organize the parade private groups stepped in to fund it. And they are opposed to LGBT groups participating in the event. Their objections?

"We do respect them," said parade organizer Neil Nguyen. "But that type of life is not accepted yet in our culture. Our culture is based on family values, men and women, husband and wife, God and people." (source)

The Tet parade is a celebration “to pay respect to the founding ancestors, paying respect to elders, educate youth about traditions, heritage and ceremonial celebration of the new year,” Rosen wrote.  Organizers believe that LGBT “has a purpose and a theme that strays and varies from the theme of the Tet parade.” (source)

But as Jimmy Nguyen writes, "the Vietnamese community in Little Saigon and anywhere else will lose nothing of their heritage if LGBT people march in their Tet parade."

Since the parade is being privately funded, they argue that they have the right to deny applications submitted by LGBT groups to participate.  In response, rivaling petitions have popped up on the internet (along with some upsetting comments). LGBT groups have sought help from the courts but "Orange County Superior Court Judge Geoffrey T. Glass declined to grant an injunction requested by the Partnership of Viet Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organizations." After the court decision, one of the lawyers for the parade organizers stated, "We respect everyone's 1st Amendment rights." Yet strangely, the subject of public kissing was on the negotiating table between parade organizers and LGBT groups. Needless to say, I've spent the past few days frustrated by the feeling that part of my community is a step behind the friggin' Boy Scouts (although, there now seems to be some backpedaling on that front).

I should emphasize here that LGBT Viets are not barred from marching in the parade just LGBT groups under an official capacity. So, I hope that my LGBT brothers and sisters are not discouraged from participating today. I hope that LGBT Viets and their allies will march in the parade and be vocal and be visible to the community. I hope that the New Year brings with it more acceptance of LGBTs in the Vietnamese American community.


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