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VSA puts on virtual Tet Show in celebration of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year

Members demonstrate the Vietnamese nightlife culture through performances and discuss racial inequalities through podcast episodes

For the traditional side of both the fashion show and dance, participating members wore "ao dai" — a traditional Vietnamese garment worn for ceremonies, school and other special events.
For the traditional side of both the fashion show and dance, participating members wore "ao dai" — a traditional Vietnamese garment worn for ceremonies, school and other special events.

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-Asian racism and hate crimes have increased dramatically. Most recently, a series of shootings at spas in the Atlanta area resulted in the deaths of eight people — six of whom were Asian women. In a timely display of the true essence of Asian culture, the University’s Vietnamese Student Association held its annual Tet show Tuesday through Saturday virtually to bring Vietnamese students closer to their culture and combat the xenophobic misrepresentation propogated by the pandemic. 

Tet — officially celebrated Feb. 12 in 2021 — is the Vietnamese celebration of the Lunar New Year and is one of the most important holidays recognized by the country. VSA’s celebration of Tet has been hosted annually since 2005 and was executed in a virtual format this year that involved two podcast episodes and either a dance, fashion show or skit being published each night. This year’s show was the first performance with a virtual format, since VSA was able to celebrate last year’s event in person right before the COVID-19 lockdown hit.

VSA’s 2021 show encompassed the theme of “A Night to Remember.” The goal of the show was to provide the audience with a taste of what a night in Vietnam might look like to a Vietnamese American or someone growing up in Vietnam and to exemplify a journey of self-identity and growth.

“My co-chair … [and I] chose the theme of nightlife in Vietnam because it is very important to Vietnamese adolescents to experience the nightlife,” said Khoa Le, VSA culture co-chair and second-year College student. “We wanted to bring that aspect of Vietnamese culture to the Vietnamese American perspective.”

The show included three choreographed dances — the girl’s modern dance, the everybody modern dance and the girl’s traditional fan dance. The girl’s traditional fan dance stems from ancient times and has been a longstanding tradition at celebrations — including Tet — and performances in Vietnam. VSA’s dancers wore casual matching outfits for the dance and worked on performing synchronously through the fluid movements of their fans. Due to the intense technicalities of the dance, the performers in the girl’s fan dance met in person to rehearse and record while adhering to the University’s COVID-19 guidelines, while the girl’s modern and everybody modern dances met solely through Zoom.

“We have 10 members for the dance, so four of us, including the two choreographers, would come in one day and four of us would come in on the other,” said Linh Luong, public relations chair and second-year College student. “Trying to recruit people to do the dances and stuff was a bit hard because, for the most part, I don't know if everyone loves getting up and dancing on Zoom. But we did get a good number of people who participated.”

In addition to the typical inclusion of both traditional and modern dance styles, this year’s Tet Show was the first to incorporate modern outfits into the fashion show, in accordance with the nightlife theme. The fashion show included a display of modern nightlife and party outfits that represent current Vietnamese fashion trends in streetwear, including oversized bomber jackets and suits. For the traditional side of the fashion show — which occurs annually — participating members wore "ao dai," which is a traditional Vietnamese garment worn for ceremonies, school and other special events. 

One of the biggest challenges faced by the culture co-chairs in organizing this year’s Tet Show was garnering participation. Many students suffer Zoom fatigue after long days of online classes, so it was difficult to gain participants and create a fun, engaging environment throughout the rehearsal process. Additionally, members were unable to meet as one unified group on Grounds to watch the festivities together — a challenge VSA needed to overcome in order to continue sharing enthusiasm for Vietnamese culture. 

“Recreating that unity aspect this year while trying to stay safe with social distancing guidelines — and having members that were remote and members who were in person unite [and] bridging those problems was the hardest part,” Luong said. “I think we did a pretty good job this year.”

Both Le and her culture co-chair, fourth-year Engineering student Kiley Weeks, were elected to their positions in March 2020 and began the Tet Show planning process the following April. One of their goals with this year’s Tet Show was to take a more serious approach to the presentation of Vietnamese culture in order to provide a more accurate display of their heritage and call attention to important issues pertaining to Asian American discrimination. 

“I wanted to make a difference in this org in terms of … making this org more cultural leaning,” Le said. “Most of the time our show is more playful — the themes are more lighthearted. But especially with what is going on during the pandemic — and especially with the recent events — we wanted to highlight something more informative and serious but also make it accessible and easy for people to listen to if they are hesitant to listen to such serious topics.”

In shifting the intent of the show, Le and Weeks introduced and led a podcast called “Kulture Shock.” In the podcast, Le and Weeks address numerous topics affecting the Asian American community in a completely opinion-based approach. 

“The podcast's purpose is to educate and advocate for the Vietnamese [and] Asian American [communities],” Le said. “We talked about important topics such as mental health, current events and our own experiences with racism and colorism in the United States. We hope that the news we provide and the thoughts that we have will allow members of our community to become more upstanding.”

Some members of the VSA executive board were initially hesitant to accept the new idea of integrating a podcast into the show, particularly because the content of the podcast would reflect the entire organization and could be misinterpreted in its representation of very serious topics. 

“We had to fight really hard for the podcast because it was something that was a little bit hard for people to listen to or accept the idea of because this organization is known for being very lighthearted and fun,” Le said. “We put a disclaimer on all of our podcast episodes saying that these are our personal opinions and it does not necessarily reflect VSA as a whole.”

The pandemic’s increase in anti-Asian sentiments has made this year’s Tet Show even more important in its mission to not only unite those with shared Vietnamese culture but to increase cultural awareness and appreciation among all races and ethnicities. With an almost 150 percent rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans this past year across major U.S. cities, the topic has become increasingly serious and sensitive to many people in the Asian community. Addressing these issues through race-based and cultural organizations such as VSA not only creates a safe space for the people participating, but also serves to educate the non-Asian population in surrounding communities.

“I think that people should [watch the show] in general to learn about other people,” first-year College student Taylor Nguyen said. “But with the recent things in the media and the news, I think now it's a little bit more important because the people who are causing all of the discrimination are ignorant towards the Asian community. I think [this discrimination] comes down to ignorance and not learning more about other people's cultures.”

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