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Little Saigon's Tet parade might not happen

Westminster once again says it can't afford the Lunar New Year tradition's $60,000 tab and encourages the Vietnamese community to raise the funds itself.

January 13, 2013|By Anh Do, Los Angeles Times
(Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

The city that gave birth to Little Saigon is unable to help pay for the annual Tet parade and is asking residents to quickly ramp up a fundraising effort to save an event marking the Lunar New Year.

A colorful pageant that draws tens of thousands, the parade dates back nearly 30 years in Westminster. It has been one of the enduring city celebrations since Vietnamese refugees began to flock here after the fall of Saigon in 1975.

The event was discontinued after parade organizers lost money in 2004 but was revived four years later when the city again infused it with cash.

But this year, with a budget shortfall of more than $10 million, the City Council said there wasn't enough money to contribute to the projected $60,000 tab.

Tri Ta, Westminster's first Vietnamese American mayor, described the parade "as a beautiful cultural tradition that should be preserved," even if the city cannot assist financially.

"I've been marching in that parade since I was in high school," said Councilman Sergio Contreras. "It's a staple — a part of Westminster. I would like to see it continue."

Contreras, a member of the marching band at Westminster High during the 1990s, said he was impressed hearing that immigrant activists recently raised $200,000 in four weeks for victims of superstorm Sandy.

"It sounds like they can come up with money in no time," he said. "I think it's exciting that leaders are willing to step up and make it happen."

The parade, scheduled for Feb. 10, highlights the community's biggest holiday. Its stage is Bolsa Avenue, the main drag for what is said to be the largest Vietnamese cultural and business district outside Vietnam.

Participants wear traditional dress and ride on colorful floats, amid the explosion of firecrackers. Politicians usually appear, courting the immigrant vote, and shops bustle with customers.

Billy Le, who heads the Union of Vietnamese Student Assns. of Southern California, said he would help raise funds to keep the parade rolling. Volunteers are expected to fan out and solicit donations over the coming weekends. Tickets to a six-course dinner banquet may be sold, and corporations, including Disney, have inquired about the parade, said Nina Tran, a student association vice president.

"It gives people a reason to come together," she said. "It really showcases what we have and who we are."

The $60,000 tab is expected to pay for city employees to handle traffic and public safety and to rent fence barriers lining the parade route.

But the window for fundraising is small. If the money isn't raised by Jan. 24, city officials will cancel the parade permit, said City Manager Eddie Manfro. So far, $10,000 has been raised.

Initially, Nghia X. Nguyen, president of the Vietnamese American Federation of Southern California, suggested hiring private security to lower costs — instead of city police officers who probably would be on overtime — but the council balked.

"We need to unite," Nguyen said, "show the community what we can do."

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