Tet tugs at heartstrings of overseas Vietnamese

11:07 | 12/02/2018 Culture & Art

(VEN) - About five million Vietnamese people live in 103 countries and territories around the world. Although travel to Vietnam has become easily accessible, not all overseas Vietnamese can fly to their homeland to celebrate Tet. Many mark the most important of their homeland’s holidays in exile, maintaining many aspects of the traditional celebrations as an expression of their cultural identity.

tet tugs at heartstrings of overseas vietnamese
Vietnamese in California

Cam Ly, 40, left her home in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa and moved to the Swedish town of Falun with her husband in 2013. Falun is a small city with few Asian immigrants. During her first year abroad, she sought to ease the longing for her home by preparing traditional Tet dishes. However, not knowing where to buy the ingredients she needed, Cam Ly had to make do with what she could find and the holiday menu consisted of simple dishes and fruit.

Since then, through two Vietnamese friends living in Falun, Cam Ly has gotten to know other overseas Vietnamese living in the neighboring city of Borlange. “We shared the idea of celebrating Tet together. Each family prepared a specific kind of food for our Tet gathering at the banquet hall of an apartment building in the center of Borlange. Apart from Vietnamese families, the party also gathered some from China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. We all had a joyful and cozy party with a full range of food for Tet,” she said. This year, Cam Ly added, she would prepare delicious kinds of food and buy ao dai (Vietnamese traditional clothing) for her children. She would then post photos of the occasion on Facebook and use them to wish their relatives and friends in Vietnam a Happy New Year.

Nguyen Quynh Huong, a Vietnamese American in San Francisco, California, said Chinese people account for 50 percent of residents in this city, and ingredients for Tet dishes are readily available, almost like Cho Lon – the Chinatown quarter of Ho Chi Minh City. Huong and her family often celebrate Tet in Orange County in southern California that has the largest Vietnamese community in the US.

Many overseas Vietnamese cannot take time off from work to make the long trip home for Tet. Tran Tu Anh used to be a Vietnam Television (VTV) editor in Ho Chi Minh City and currently lives in the city of Brentwood, a San Francisco suburb. She said her family moved to America in late 2012 and 2018 will mark their sixth Tet there. Each year, Tu Anh and her family prepare food offerings for their ancestors on New Year’s Eve and the first day of the Lunar New Year. They wish their parents longevity, give children lucky money, eat and drink, and go to the fair.

tet tugs at heartstrings of overseas vietnamese
2018 will mark Tu Anh’s family’s sixth Tet in America

“My family live in the city of Brentwood, about one hour by car from San Jose. Vietnamese people in northern California often buy Vietnamese food at the Grand Century Shopping Mall, Lion Plaza and Lee’s Sandwiches. These places sell various kinds of Vietnamese food for Tet, such as pork pies, sausages, banh chung (square glutinous rice cakes) and banh tet (cylindrical glutinous cakes). These products are of high quality and just a little bit more expensive than in Vietnam,” Tu Anh said.

Overseas Vietnamese have to work during Tet as it falls in January or February, after the annual Christmas and New Year vacations, Tu Anh said. However, the New Year’s Eve and the first day of the Lunar New Year sometimes fall on a weekend. Each year, the Vietnamese community in the US organizes Tet fairs in San Jose (northern California) or Orange County (southern California) during, prior or after Tet. These fairs can be organized also on the 15th day of the first lunar month. This year’s fair is expected to take place on the 16th, 17th and 18th days of the first lunar month (the dates this year fall in early March).

Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, born in the southern Vietnamese city of Can Tho, currently works as an apprentice at a food company in Aomori, Japan. This year will mark her fourth Tet there. Ngan went to Japan under a four-year apprentice exchange program and sorely misses her parents and relatives, especially during Tet. As Japanese people do not celebrate the Lunar New Year, Ngan has no holiday on the occasion. However, along with other Vietnamese apprentices at the company, she orders banh chung and some other kinds of food from Amazon.com for a gathering on New Year’s Eve.

Ngo Van Anh, born in Hung Yen Province, went to Germany in 1997 when she was 15 years old. She has experienced 19 Tets abroad without her mother and younger brother. To ease her sadness, she joins the large Vietnamese community where she lives, gathering each year to recall the Tet atmosphere in the homeland.

Minh Long & Mai Ca