Drawing a lesson from the past, Vietnamese community leaders in Orange County say they have put aside their personal and political differences to stage only one festival commemorating the coming lunar new year.
Over the years, different groups have staged their own Tet celebrations and have fought over bragging rights, with each group claiming to be the official festival of the new year.
And last year, protests over the display of a Communist flag led to infighting in the community--an experience that taught leaders about the value of displaying a unified voice.
The incident "was a reminder that we should be more together. We think the whole community is the most important thing," said Duc Trong Do, president of the Vietnamese Community of Southern California, the group that has been split in recent years, staging two celebrations.
"Instead of breaking into [factions] we agreed to . . . have one festival for the benefit of the whole community," he said. "We should show we can cooperate, especially on the new year."
The festival, to be held Feb. 4-6 at Atlantis Park at the corner of Westminster Avenue and Bushard Street in Garden Grove, is not the only new year event planned this year. The Union of Vietnamese Student Assns. is holding a festival this weekend at 14100 Monroe St., next to the Westminster Civic Center.
But the student event, staged in Westminster for the first time last year, does not reflect any political division, organizers said. As in 1999, it will be held one week before the new year to avoid the appearance of a rivalry with the other festival, and so students can have the lunar new year free to celebrate with their families.
"It doesn't conflict with the other festival. And doing it one week before, it is also an opportunity to celebrate it two times," said Tram Thai, a festival organizer for the Union of Vietnamese Student Assns.
The result, observers said, should be a more focused and harmonious Tet celebration than there has been in years. This year's Vietnamese festival, similar to those celebrated by other Asian communities, will mark the Year of the Dragon.
Westminster Police Lt. James Waller, who is in charge of handling festivals, said he believes the community realizes that the appearance of infighting is harmful. "They're saying, 'We can't continue like that; that's the way it was in our old country. We need to be a united front and work with each so they are more accepted into the American community.' "
Organizers this year also sought to answer complaints from merchants that competing celebrations--with street closures adding to the usual parking problems in Westminster's Little Saigon--disrupt business.
To spare the merchants, the Vietnamese Community of Southern California decided to hold the event in nearby Garden Grove, outside the heart of Little Saigon. Group officials concluded that the best way to win a city permit was to appear unified and peaceful.
"We thought, if we jointly do this festival, Garden Grove will be happy to accept the festival," Duc Trong Do said.
Luan Tran, a lawyer who is active in the Vietnamese community, said he is encouraged by the cohesiveness among old-school Vietnamese. He hopes it signals that bickering among them will fade.
"The [Tet] festivities are so inherent in our heritage, it shouldn't be that hard to agree on a new year event," Tran said. "After the flag [protests] I think we learned our lesson . . . that to achieve something meaningful we have to stand together. I hope this is not just a one-time thing, though. I hope this will translate into something more productive down the road."