The start of February becomes very prominent in Vietnamese culture due to the Lunar New Year. It allows those who are part of the Vietnamese culture and those who are not to witness the rich culture promoted. In San Diego, the Tet Festival allows those of our community to partake in this cherished holiday. Seniors Natalie Truong and Kim Lam from MC decided to join in these festivities as contestants in the pageant.
“The event was a festival held every year by a Vietnamese American youth organization to celebrate what is commonly known as Lunar New Year. This festival has been held in Mira Mesa for about five years now, however, the organization itself has been around for plenty of years,” Lam said. “The purpose of this events whole festival is to hold a celebration known as Tet. In Vietnam Tet is the most celebrated holiday of them all. It holds multiple meanings to different people but for me, personally, Tet means family because it is this holiday that all of my family members come to celebrate the New Year together.”
Within the festival, there is a pageant that allows young girls of Vietnamese backgrounds to showcase their pride for the culture.
“Its purpose is to elevate the Vietnamese American female symbol of beauty and pride. [It’s] an opportunity to showcase it through individuality, intellectual strength, and grace,” said Natalie Truong.
The organization has allowed those in the San Diego area to be immersed into the Vietnamese culture and has inspired them to grow closer to their native roots.
“I originally joined VAYA as a volunteer my junior year. I slowly worked alongside with VAYA up to one of their staff position. It was then around September that everyone on staff urged me to do this pageant as it would give me a higher position to help promote my culture,” Lam said. “I was very hesitant at first but in the end I did end up joining through the encouragement of many people in VAYA including previous winners from last year pageant.”
This was not the first time a fellow sundevil has stood on the stage to represent their Vietnamese pride and heritage.
“I got involved because as a little girl, going to the tet festival and looking up to the beautiful women up on stage before me inspired me to take part in the culture [festivities],” said Truong. “A close friend of mine that previously attended MC and Vietnamese school with me, Tiffany Luu, has also won in the previous years and that really inspired me.”
Entering into the pageant, doubt and remorse was faced but soon was relinquished as the weeks of rehearsals passed.
“I was a little nervous when I first joined and wasn’t sure if I truly fitted in. Turned out, I got to make amazing friends along the way,” Truong said. “Although, weekly practices were brutal, I always had so much fun with the girls. In the end, it felt so honorable to take part in the pageant and build self confidence I once didn’t have.”
Throughout the pageant the girls are given the opportunity to represent their culture through attire, knowledge, and culture.
“During the event, there are five parts to the pageant. We start off with a group dance where we all dressed in traditional school girl clothes, aka áo dài. Secondly, we have our evening gown walks, then our traditional áo dái walk. Then the top 10 is announced and are asked questions, [and after] the to 5 are announced as the royal court,” Truong said.
Overall, the Vietnamese culture revolves around the pageant and pays great homage to their native land.
“Culture definitely plays a huge role in this pageant… this was nowhere near your typical beauty pageant,” Lam said.
Being part of an event that allowed participants to connect back to their heritage not only immersed participants in their origins but also fostered great confidence in the individuals.
“There was most definitely a lot of pride within as I walked that stage. I made it to the top 10 which I felt incredibly proud about. Being able to speak both languages and showing others how proud of who I am fely amazing. Although, I did not make the top five, I was crowned miss áo dái for having the best traditional dress,” Truong said.
Growing up in the U.S. sometimes poses great strains on learning one’s native culture and traditions. Through this event, participants hope to inspire Vietnamese-Americans to learn and represent a big part of their identity.
“Being an American and knowing the culture, I hoped to have inspired the little girls before me in future generations,” Truong said.
With large strides to be the most represented participant their views have been altered for the better.
“My culture now holds a lot of meaning to me because it’s something that bring me closer to my family… Through everything that have happened to me these past few months and with all the new people I have been able to meet through this experience, I learn to really appreciate everyone that is in my life,” Lam said. “I want to thank this pageant for not only giving me an experience of a lifetime but also giving me and amazing group of girls that’ll always have my back.”
In the end, knowing personal cultural roots is a large part of one’s identity and it is important to continue passing these traditions for next generations.
“Culture is everything to me. I find thay going back to our roots shapes who we are as a person. Carrying on traditions is what brings families together and family is most important to me,” Truong said. “I hope people know and learn that our culture is as beautiful as it sounds and this pageant brings the community together as well as a great sisterhood. Out community is very loving and opened arms”.
Without this opportunity, many Vietnamese-Americans would not have had an easy accessibility to grow a greater appreciation for their culture. Culture holds great value to many as it is the roots to people’s personalities and identities.