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Vietnamese Honor Sister Queens : Culture: An annual ceremony pays tribute to a country’s history and helps a community perpetuate its traditions.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

About 1,500 people stood in respect as four boys carried a red throne onto the auditorium stage at Valley High School on Sunday afternoon.

On the throne was a painting of Vietnam’s heroic sister queens, who ruled for three years from about AD 40 and who are still honored each year by Vietnamese overseas with ceremonies such as Sunday’s.

Two women dressed in red and gold marched solemnly in the procession of about 60 people behind the throne. Minh-Nguyet Pham, 18, and Phuong-Uyen Nguyen, 22, were chosen to portray the Trung sisters in the eighth annual ceremony and variety show held by the Assn. of Trung Vuong High School Alumni and Friends. Trung Vuong is an all-girls school in Vietnam.

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“It is an honor for both of us to represent the Trungs,” said Pham, a student at UC Irvine. “In order to do so, we have to be upstanding citizens ourselves.” She and Nguyen are both studying biology. Nguyen is a student at Cal Poly Pomona and a beauty queen of the 1989 Vietnamese beauty pageant in Long Beach.

“A big Vietnamese community like Orange County’s has an obligation to keep up traditions,” Pham said. “Every year we need to pay tribute to the history of the sister queens.” A former Trung Vuong High School student said the alumni association helps the Vietnamese community to maintain its culture. The association rented the auditorium at Valley High School for Sunday’s colorful pageant in part because it is centrally located.

Even if it means extra work beyond daily job and household duties, “I help out with the activities because I have a responsibility as a member of the community and as a former student of the school named after the heroines,” said Khanh-Linh Nguyen, the show’s master of ceremonies.

Thanh-Ha Nguyen, the 49-year-old president of the alumni association, said the group has chapters in San Jose, Houston, Washington, D.C., Canada and France. The Orange County chapter was started in 1982 and has about 100 active members.

Khanh-Linh Nguyen said Sunday’s program included 11 acts of traditional dances and songs, most of them retelling the history of the sister queens. It also included the recitation of a poem by a 5-year-old girl, Mai Dang. The poem was another way of retelling the story.

In AD 39, Vietnam had already been ruled for 150 years by its northern neighbor, China. The people of the small country, which had existed since about 2880 BC, silently suffered under the oppression of the Chinese governor.

But two sisters, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, secretly trained an army in hope of bringing freedom to Vietnam and avenging the death of Trung Trac’s husband, who had been executed because of anti-government activities. The cause of the Trung sisters attracted men and women from all backgrounds. Noblemen, transients, scholars, warriors, priests, old and young learned to wield swords and ride elephants.

The surprise attacks of the odd and powerful army won many battles for the Trungs. Within a year, they drove the Chinese rulers from Vietnam and proclaimed themselves as sister queens of the land. Peace reigned until several years later, when the Chinese army returned and defeated the Trungs. However, rather than surrender to the enemy, the two sisters ended their lives by jumping into a river. That day is observed not only to pay tribute to the sisters’ courage but also to honor Vietnamese women everywhere.

“A Vietnamese woman’s role is very important,” said Thuan Song Nguyen, a man in his mid-50s. “Not only because of household duties but also because they are ready to help fight when the country is in danger.”

Nguyen said Trung Vuong High School school is well-known because of the Trungs’ dramatic history and because it is Vietnam’s oldest all-girl high school.

“That’s why the alumni association is so important,” Thuan Song Nguyen said. “It can help the morale of Vietnamese overseas to win back their country.”

His friend, Hong Pham, agreed. And he said there is a myth that Asian cultures take women for granted. “In reality that’s not true,” he said.


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