Photo caption: Vietnamese girls dance group performs at last year’s 16th Annual Tet Festival at Seattle Center. Photo credit: Mike Huynh.

Starting on Feb. 16, more than 15,000 people will brave the gloomy, cold Seattle weather, endure downtown traffic and walk far distances from their hard-earned parking spot to fulfill an annual cultural pilgrimage at the Seattle Center. This two-day event, known as Tet in Seattle, is a Lunar New Year celebration that has become one of the most beloved and favorite cultural events among the Vietnamese community in the Pacific Northwest.

Ask any Vietnamese person in Seattle about the event, and they can tell you how they’ve been personally involved or know someone who has been involved at one point or another. For the past 17 years, Tet in Seattle (TIS) has kept its mission to “preserve and promote the Vietnamese culture and heritage, and to enrich the cultural diversity in the greater Seattle area.” The organization sprung from a collaboration of four other organizations: Vietnamese Student Association at the University of Washington (UW), Helping Link, Vovinam of Tacoma and the Boy Scouts (Viet Hung chapter).

By 2002, TIS had evolved to become its own independent nonprofit organization, and in 2011, received the Seattle Mayor’s Art Award, given to organizations and community members that make a difference through arts and culture. Since then, TIS has engaged in various community events, such as raising more than $45,000 for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and assisting at the International District (ID) Street Clean-Up, food drives, toy drive for Children’s Hospital and International Festival in Renton. TIS has also participated in the Vietnamese community Seafair float and won Seafair’s Community Spirit Award in the past two years.

The free annual Tet festival brings together arts, music, food, cultural traditions and performances that are unique to Vietnam, and instills a strong cultural root for many Vietnamese Americans in Seattle. After all these years, the organization still remains 100vpercent volunteer-run, with this year being a transition year for “newblood” board members.  “As much as I’d like to continue leading the TIS organization, it’s time to pass on the torch and encourage the younger generation. I hope the new board will take on the new role with pride and continue helping shape TIS future. I hope the new TIS volunteers will learn more about Vietnamese culture in the process and embrace our colorful heritage,” says former executive director Khanh Vu.

The new 16-member board consists of many college students and recent graduates, who have been working diligently with Seattle Center staff members to ensure the success of the event, learning as they go, from coordinating cultural exhibits of Vietnam to reserving hotels and flights for singers, and from securing vendors to laying out the floor plans for both the Armory (former Center House) and Fisher Pavilion.

TIS has more than 25 booths this year, and in the Armory, children and youth will have the opportunity to get their face painted, win prizes from booth games, support their favorite Knowledge Bowl team or Spelling Bee contestant, and maybe even receive lucky money “lì xì” red envelopes. In the Fisher Pavilion, parents and adults can enjoy various performances, including martial arts, the traditional “aó dài” long dress fashion show, cultural “nón lá” straw hat dances and music concerts from local and famous Vietnamese singers.

“This year’s entertainment program will be more vibrant than ever, and our performers have no doubt put in exceptional effort with dance and singing rehearsals, which I hope will be rewarded by an even bigger and more enthusiastic audience!” exclaims theme program director Tiffany Vo.

“I hope that TIS continues to prosper as an event the whole community can look forward to,” says co-executive director Henry Doan. “I also hope to see younger faces in the crowd as the years go by; our culture is far too rich to lose touch with.”
And, like icing on a cake, culturally relevant food and drinks such as the beef “pho” noodle soup, Vietnamese grilled beef “thit nuong” sandwiches, “nuoc mía” sugarcane drink and “chè” bean dessert will be sold to support other nonprofits.
TIS is the first of the Seattle Center Festál series of 22 cultural celebrations run by various community organizations, and is sponsored by the Seattle Center, T-Mobile, Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo, Comcast and the City of Seattle’s Arts & Cultural Affairs.  The program begins at 10:30 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m. on both February 16 and 17.

For more information about Tet in Seattle, visit www.tetinseattle.org.

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