Saturday night, the Vietnamese American Student Association (VASA) held a celebration of the Tet lunar new year in the CSU Ballroom. The event was a window into the culture of Vietnam, exhibiting the country’s food, language, dance, music, and art.
One of the first performances was the lion dance. It featured a dancer in a mask along with two other dancers wearing an elaborate lion costume, giving the appearance of a lion wandering around the stage. This, along with the dragon dance, are two characteristic Vietnamese dances.
Several songs were performed in the Vietnamese language. The event’s most popular entertainer was MNSU student Luu Thien Pham who took the stage in a shiny red suit to sing “Diep Khuc.” Audience members gathered in front of the stage to dance along and to present him with roses. He came back later in the show for another performance, this time with duet partner Erika Cao.
“I loved every moment of it,” Pham said after the event. “It’s just the hype, the energy from everyone that supported me. They really helped me a lot to perform really well.”
Artwork was on display in the back of the ballroom. Nhi Nyugen was selling some of her own original work along with traditional folk prints that she brought from Vietnam. Folk prints, she explains, are traditional Vietnamese images produced by two “master families” using traditional paper and homemade inks. These images often depict fantastical stories or everyday life in a rural setting. Pigs, Nguyen explains, symbolize wealth and the rooster (the “farmer’s friend”) symbolizes hard work. Back in Vietnam, Nguyen’s family gathers together to celebrate the new year and to honor deceased family members during Tet, which she says is the most important holiday of the year in Vietnam.
Throughout the event, the audience had the chance to participate in trivia and win prizes. The emcees posed questions such as “what countries border Vietnam?” and “what is the purpose of the lion dance?” The first audience member to run to the stage and answer correctly was awarded a prize.
Attendees were treated to a meal of rice, chicken and vegetable egg rolls, hard-boiled eggs with pork, chicken salad, bean sprout and pepper salad, fortune cookies, and a dessert consisting of coconut syrup, tapioca, and corn. Chicken was featured on the menu in celebration of the year of the rooster, which is being kicked off by this Tet lunar new year season.
Thao, Phuong, and Kim are three international students from Vietnam who came to join in the celebration Saturday night. They explain that during the Tet season in Vietnam, they are given ten days off from work and the whole country rests.
“There are no cars or motorbikes on the streets,” says Kim.
They explain that the date of the new year varies from year to year and that the reason it is celebrated now is because Tet comes from a calendar based on the moon, not the sun. An article on Vietnam Online explains that “in the past, Tet was essential as it provided one of few long breaks during the agricultural year.”
Their favorite Tet activities included getting together with family, fireworks, and “lucky money.” Lucky money, which parents present to their children in red envelopes during Tet, seems to be an all-around favorite. Children at the event were invited to come up to the stage to collect their very own lucky money.
The emcees presented information in both English and Vietnamese. One of the emcees, Anthony Ho, was pleased with how the event turned out.
“I’m very happy that this show went pretty well,” Ho says. “We spent roughly four months preparing for this event, contacting people, getting the show up, designing and, buying stuff.”
Ho notes that much of the traditional dress used by the performers was brought over to Mankato from Vietnam over Christmas break.
“VASA is really active,” Ho says, adding that it is open to all students, not just Vietnamese students.
“I enjoyed it,” says Isai Morales. “It’s always fun to have new experiences. Not just learn about your own culture, but other cultures. I really hope people come to these events because they’re a great thing.”
According to population statistics provided on www.mnsu.edu, there were seventeen international students from Vietnam as of last spring semester.