The dragon danced for good fortune. Elders smiled and children laughed. It was the annual Tet festival last weekend, marking the lunar new year and held this time against the backdrop of gradually improving relations between the United States and Vietnam.
Orange County is said to have the largest number of Vietnamese outside Vietnam--70,000 in the most recent U.S. Census, probably more by now. It was heartening to see the crowds at Golden West College in Huntington Beach blend two cultures, nibbling on dried fish and spring rolls and washing them down with Coca-Cola. A festival co-chairman sounded the right theme when he said the immigrants from Vietnam "need to assimilate into mainstream society," but the youngsters should still "proudly carry on our culture."
The Tet festival went on a day after Washington and Hanoi announced they will open liaison offices in each other's capital cities, another step toward full diplomatic relations. The move was greeted with understandable caution among those celebrating the holiday on the Golden West grounds.
One man said the latest evidence of rapprochement between the two former enemies "reopened wounds that haven't quite healed." Others in the Vietnamese community bitterly criticized the Communist government for holding political prisoners and restricting religious freedom.
But a Times Poll a year ago found that more than half the Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans backed full diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam. That was a welcome change from the previous hostility that led Little Saigon supporters of closer links to fear being attacked by hard-liners. The United States should keep pressuring Vietnam for a full accounting of prisoners of war and those missing in action, and for greater freedom within Vietnam. But it is also wise to improve relations and lessen the bitterness between two nations.