, Port Arthur, Texas

February 7, 2014

PA students celebrate Tet

Erinn Callahan
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — The auditorium at Robert E. Lee Elementary School was a feast for the senses on Thursday when the Year of the Horse galloped through.

The school’s students, teachers and parents lined the walls to celebrate Tet,  the Vietnamese celebration of the lunar new year. Students dressed in exotic hues of jade, scarlet and azure symbolically bade farewell to winter with dance routines set to Vietnamese-language music.

“It’s gotten better and better every year,” Jule Joffrion, the school’s technology specialist, said of the celebration.

Joffrion pointed out former students among the members of Memorial High School’s Vietnamese Culture Club, who performed a routine of their own.

A performance by a handful of Lee Elementary teachers and volunteers brought the house down. Moments later, the raucous laughter gave way to exclamations of shock and awe when a Lan (a lion-dragon hybrid that symbolizes strength in the Vietnamese culture) danced its way through the students, warding off malevolent spirits to the staccato tune of a drum.

Because individual birthdays are not celebrated in the Vietnamese culture, people in Vietnam age collectively on Tet, program director Linh Nguyen said.

“It’s almost like a birthday for everyone in Vietnam,” Nguyen, a third grade math teacher, said. “It brings us back together.”

Nguyen, who moved to Port Arthur from Vietnam as an eight-year-old in 1979, has been involved with the program since he joined the Lee Elementary staff 18 years ago. He said that he enjoys helping to educate the community of Port Arthur about the customs and celebrations of its sizable Vietnamese population.

“I want to share my culture with the other ethnic groups,” he said. “Lee is a very multicultural school.”

For costumes, decorations and instruments, the program relies on donations from the community — and, Nguyen said, the community provides.

“Whatever we needed, the community gladly gave us,” he said. “I’m happy because other ethnic groups embrace our culture. We all feel welcome.”


Twitter: @ErinnPA