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Sacramento Celebrates Little Saigon at Tet Festival

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The annual Tet Festival was packed with more meaning than usual this year.

This year’s festival, which celebrates the Vietnamese new year with food, dance and carnival rides, among other festivities, also featured the official designation of Little Saigon. The two-mile stretch of Stockton Boulevard between Fruitridge and Florin roads is home to a large Vietnamese community.

The official designation of the area came Saturday morning with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Stockton Boulevard and Fowler Avenue. The title is the result of a recently passed City Council resolution.

More than 200 people attended the ceremony, including the Little Saigon Committee, City Councilman Kevin McCarty, and state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, who represents the area.

"Eighteen years ago, I started on the City Council in this area," Steinberg said. "I know I represent a rich community, a community rich in tradition, rich in culture and rich in pride."

A parade with dancers in costume, dragons and drums moved toward the Tet Festival on Florin Road.

The festival included a traditional Vietnamese New Year’s ceremony, which featured dancers in dragon costumes moving to the rhythm of the drummers while firecrackers exploded all around them. There also was a carnival adjacent to the festival area, and even Mexican dancing horses.

There were many booths selling food, drink, gifts, toys and karaoke machines. Others represented businesses and community organizations, including the Sacramento Chinese Community Center and the Vietnamese Hope Baptist Church of Sacramento.

Thamh Nguyen, who helped plan the festival and emceed from the main stage, deemed the festival a success.

"We do the festival every year to remind our community to celebrate the freedom in this country," he said. "This year is special. The approval of Little Saigon adds a lot to it."

The Vietnamese Hope Baptist Church, which has participated in the festival for 10 years, sold food and drinks to help pay for the construction of a new church building. Pastor Tuan Phan, a native of Vietnam who has lived in Sacramento for 17 years, said he was excited about Little Saigon.

"I hear the words ‘Little Saigon’ and it reminds me of my country," he said.

Some of the younger generation wasn’t as enthusiastic. Ousio Saeteurn and Alex Lee said it didn’t mean much to them.

"They need to open up more stores and fill it out," said Lee, indicating a field nearby. "It’s a little empty."

"It’s okay," said Saeteurn. "It gives us kids something to do and a place to interact with people."

To those who came from Vietnam to the United States, however, Little Saigon has far more meaning.

Son Nguyen, a member of the Association of Former Vietnamese Political Prisoners, has lived in Sacramento 19 years. He is excited about Little Saigon, he said, because it represents what Vietnam was before 1975, when the country became a communist government. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City at that time.

"I’m very proud to be Vietnamese and to have this here in Sacramento," he said, through a translator.

Little Saigon is meaningful because many in the Sacramento Vietnamese community escaped from the communist government to freedom in America, said Thamh Nguyen.

"Saigon has a connection to this community, and that connection is freedom. It means a lot to a lot of people," he said. "Using the name ‘Little Saigon’ reminds them why we’re here."

This year’s Tet Festival coinciding with the designation of Little Saigon not only lent extra meaning to the festival, it increased awareness of this vibrant and diverse community.

"Having Little Saigon now brings a lot of understanding to the people outside of the Vietnamese community," Nguyen said. "It’s great to have the community of Sacramento celebrate with us."


All photos taken by Jonathan Mendick

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