Saturday’s Tet in Boston celebrates Vietnamese culture, Year of the Horse

Chris Harding, Special to the Reporter
Feb. 6, 2014

Tet in Boston: A traditional dance performance by Northeastern University VSA Dance Troupe was part of last year’s Tet in Boston event. Photo courtesy Hoang NguyenTet in Boston: A traditional dance performance by Northeastern University VSA Dance Troupe was part of last year’s Tet in Boston event. Photo courtesy Hoang Nguyen

Whoa! The Celestial Stallion is bringing big changes to Dorchester and the rest of the cosmos. According to Chinese astrologers, the Year of the Horse officially galloped into town last Friday. But the Dot-based cultural group Tet in Boston (TIB), while waiting until this coming Saturday, Feb. 8, to ceremoniously mark his arrival, is keeping its New Year’s resolutions to attract larger and more diverse crowds to the festivities with changes in venue, programming and outreach.

This year organizers are moving the festivities back to Columbia Point where the gathering was held between 2000 and 2007 attracting between 7,000 to 10,000 people. Saturday’s New Year’s Festival at Carson Place— inside the Boston Teacher’s Union hall— has a full schedule of family-friendly activities from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Children under 3 get in free. All others pay $5 admission. There’s a separate $35-$40 charge for an evening concert at the IBEW Hall on Freeport Street.

From 2008 to 2013, the event was held at the Harbor Pilot Middle School in Fields Corner (formerly the Grover Cleveland), where Tet in Boston could only accommodate around 3,000 visitors, a number which was still good enough to qualify as the largest Vietnamese gathering of any kind in New England.

David Vo, chairman of this year’s festival, is an IT expert in his early thirties, who has vowed to make the day event “more interactive.” He has worked closely with long-time Tet in Boston organizers to find new ways to expand participation.

In recent years, TIB had seemed to have been principally of interest to grandparents and grandchildren, with the former bringing the latter to the event to reinforce Vietnamese traditions, especially those surrounding this by far the largest and most important holiday of the year. Elders distribute “lucky money” in red envelopes, some folks hang prayer wishes in Vietnamese or English from strings on the wall, and everyone devours square (bahn chung) and round (bahn day) sticky rice cakes.

But truthfully, Vo observed, “there wasn’t much to attract the adult younger generation.”

Vo polled his peers to get their input on what would entice them to come to the community gathering. Raffle sales took off when following their advice he made a MacBook Air the top prize. Vo, who also works with Fields Corner-based Thang Long, a newspaper and community activist organization, personally did media interviews in Vietnamese and English.

While the Harbor School is located in Fields Corner, the heart of the Vietnamese community, and is just a few steps from a the Red Line station, the dearth of parking in the area discouraged attendance by people who weren’t already in Dorchester or Boston. Using Carson Place at the Boston Teacher’s Union has the advantage of affording free parking as well as easy accessibility from the JFK/UMass station.

The Teacher’s Union also offers more square footage than did the Harbor School. In Fields Corner the entertainment/performances were in a different space than the informational tables and children’s activities. This year with one large hall the attendees can listen to the ceremonies and entertainment while chatting with vendors and agency reps.

In the past the daytime events were followed by a separate banquet and concert with a host of Vietnamese singers in facilities like China Pearl in Quincy. Vo, however, is bringing the show back to Dorchester as well, to the IBEW Hall. There will be light refreshments like spring rolls and a bar, but not a full-fledged formal dinner. A few of the evening stars are expected to drop by Carson Place during the day to do a number or two to rustle up interest in the multi-star gala at the union hall.

This year’s musical guests come from as nearby as Dorchester and as far away as California. They include Hà Thanh Xuân, Hoàng Anh Thu, Đan Nguyên, Ngoc Diem, Hoàng Vân, Hoàng Thông, Thien Khán, Linh Vu, Huynh Ngân, Ngoc Thanh, Anh Đào and Ban Nhac New Brothers.

Tet in Boston is a volunteer effort organized by the Vietnamese-American Community of Massachusetts (VACM) and the Intercollegiate Vietnamese Student Association. Lower Mills resident Mr. Binh Nguyen is VACM President and still a guiding force in the event.

Vietnamese student associations from Boston University, Northeastern University, Boston College, and other colleges and universities in the New England area volunteer in various capacities like performing Asian dances in traditional garb and leading the children in activities like the “crab game” and crafts like calligraphy.

For those unable to attend this Saturday, astrologers offer the consolation that everyone in this year of the Wood Horse can still look forward to twelve months of quick victories, unexpected adventure, and surprising romance. So saddle up, everyone!