Tet Is No Time for Rancor : Rival Vietnamese Festivals Tested Tradition of Harmony

The Tet festival is the most important religious and cultural holiday of the year for the Vietnamese community. This year's celebration of the lunar new year in Orange County unfortunately ran counter to the holiday's traditional theme of harmony.

For one thing, there were rival celebrations on the same weekend in late February. One was in Westminster, sponsored by the city. The other was a mile away in Garden Grove, sponsored by the Vietnamese American Community of Southern California, a political and social service agency that represents Vietnamese emigres in Southern California--the largest concentration of Vietnamese outside Vietnam.

No one should be surprised that a community of several hundred thousand people--the population of Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans in Southern California--has dissenting voices. Given some of the attempts to silence political dissent within the community in the not too distant past, the public airing of disagreements is healthy.

But several fires before the rival festivals aroused suspicion that someone might be trying to sabotage the Westminster event. That's because one of the blazes was at the restaurant of Tony Lam, a Westminster councilman who was a prime sponsor of his city's festival. The Vietnamese American Community of Southern California denied any connection to the fires and the investigation remains open.

Lam was further upset by the shooting of three young men in a Vietnamese cafe in Westminster, allegedly by a lone gunman, on the weekend of the festivals. Police said the shooting was unconnected to Tet, but called it gang related, a reminder of the tragedy that has befallen too many young Vietnamese who have been caught up in gang life.

Westminster officials have taken steps to try to make cafes less gang-friendly by requiring improvements such as better lighting and untinted windows. That can help public safety.

The merchants of Little Saigon will benefit by having their customers of all ethnic backgrounds able to shop without fear of getting caught in a gang cross-fire. Indeed, for most spectators at the Tet festivals, crime was of no concern. The dragon dances, food and music produced a good time and a welcome look into the heart of another culture.

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