Tet Fest attracts students and locals

Hannah Levitan, News Editor

Annual Tet fest offers traditional Vietnamese games, food and entertainment to ring in the Lunar New Year.

Marking the first day of the lunar calendar, Tet, or the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, is a time for one of New Orleans’ largest immigrant populations to gather in celebration at the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church. This year, Tet fell on Jan. 22.

Home to one of the most densely-populated Vietnamese communities in Louisiana, New Orleans’ subtropical climate attracted thousands fleeing from the Communist regime at the end of the Vietnam War. The influx of Vietnamese immigrants established what is now a community of over 14,000.  

While the largest community resides in the Versailles neighborhood of New Orleans East, people from across the city join in welcoming the Lunar New Year. 

Tulane University senior Andy Degnin said he learned about the New Orleans Vietnamese community his sophomore year.

“I’ve gone to a few places in New Orleans East like Dong Phuong … but I was really interested to go [to the festival] … because there’s not a huge Vietnamese community where I’m from,” Degnin said.  

The Mary Queen of Vietnam Church hosts an annual, weekend-long festival as a fundraiser. Organized by local church committees, church members volunteer to set up games, raffles, live entertainment and, of course, food. 

Joseph Luu, church member and Benjamin Franklin High School student, said the crowd was larger in comparison to previous festivals. 

“For our mid-autumn festival last October, there weren’t that many people,” Luu said. “We just came back from our COVID times, so that’s reasonable. But this year, there’s a lot more people, especially yesterday and today. A lot more diversity as well.” 

Once predominantly concentrated in New Orleans East, the community has dispersed throughout the city resulting in a fusion of Vietnamese and Creole cuisine. 

Alongside banh chung, the main food of Tet made of sticky rice, pork, beans and banana leaves, food stands offered gumbo, crawfish and “special Vietnamese po-boys.” 

For the last few years, family-owned restaurant Manchu Chicken has donated their fried chicken in support of the festival. Family member and volunteer Thaochi Pham said the restaurant’s stand is run entirely by volunteers

“We [host] a lot of activities in the church and if you’re involved in either one organization or a different one, most likely everybody knows each other either through sisters or brothers, or parents or grandparents,” Pham said. “We [came] here [in] 1975 and we spread out. So every year when there’s a New Year they all come back here to visit.”

Tulane history professor Teresa Parker encouraged her Louisiana Folk History class to attend the festival as a way to better connect with the past. 

“I connect more strongly to the history when I think about living traditions or living history and one way of accessing the past … is through looking at how that history is playing out in the 21st century,” Parker said. 

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