Vietnamese Traditions; Tet Festival Keeps the Colorful Culture Alive and Now All of Jacksonville Can Experience It

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Byline: Sandy Strickland

The Jacksonville Fairgrounds will be transformed into a Little Vietnam, complete with lanterns, banners, plants, decorations and a boat outside the front entrance representing the refugees who fled Communist rule after the war. And traditional food, lots of food, and lots of entertainment.

The Vietnamese Association of Jacksonville is marking Vietnam's largest and most important festival, known as Tet, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday at 510 Fairgrounds Place. Mayor Alvin Brown will speak at 4:30 p.m. The event, which has been expanded and is open to the public, is expected to draw up to 5,000 people, said architect Tri Vu, event co-chairman with pediatrician Thanh Nguyen. Entry fee is $5.

The association, which has 5,000 members, has been staging the event since its formation in 1986, Vu said. In the past, it's played mainly to the Vietnamese community and some guests.

"This is our first exposure to the entire Jacksonville community, and we decided to select a venue that's centrally located," said Vu, who estimates there are 10,000 Vietnamese in the area. "I've been dreaming about this for a long time."

In Vietnam, Tet marks the lunar New Year and lasts a longer period. (Vietnam veterans, in particular, are familiar with the word from the Tet Offensive of 1968.) It's a time for getting rid of debt, buying new clothing for the children and cleaning the house, said Nhat Nguyen, a chiropractic physician and event spokesman.

"One of the reasons we have the New Year festival is to keep the traditions alive and pass it down to the younger generation born in America," said Nguyen, who came to the United States in 1990 when he was 7.

The fairgrounds will showcase Vietnam's three regions - North, Central and South. …