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Vietnamese-Americans' new year dawns with tradition-filled delight

More than 500 people from Western New York's Vietnamese-American community danced the night away and wished one another "Chuc Mung Nam Moi" -- Happy New Year -- as Tet, the lunar new year, dawned today.

Not only is it the beginning of a new year, but Vietnamese who practice centuries-old traditions all become a year older today.

So Sunday evening's celebration in the banquet hall of Father Justin Council 5670, Knights of Columbus, on Union Road in Cheektowaga was not only a New Year's Eve party, but also a mass birthday party.

Tom Tran, vice president of the Vietnamese Community Association of Western New York, said it was an occasion to wish one another prosperity, good health, longevity, good luck, "and may all your wishes come true."

Tran said the first wave of immigrants from South Vietnam began settling in Western New York in 1975. They now number about 3,000, mostly in enclaves in Buffalo and Cheektowaga. Many second-generation Vietnamese-Americans speak fluent English, but Sunday's New Year's Eve celebration was conducted almost entirely in Vietnamese.

"Some of the younger ones are struggling to speak Vietnamese now, and we provide classes for them, but most of them speak English," Tran said.

Today begins the Year of the Dragon, believed to be an especially auspicious year because the dragon is the most powerful of the 12 signs of the zodiac, associated with high energy and prosperity. The dragon is the only mythical creature in the Eastern astrological table, which also includes the likes of horses and pigs.

It is considered to be the best year in which a boy can be born because it is said to bring strength, independence, bravery, wisdom and early maturity. On the dark side, however, it also is believed to bring trouble in female love lives, especially divorce, according to Vietnam Online.

But there were no dark thoughts Sunday night -- New Year's Eve -- in the Knights of Columbus hall.

"We have adopted America as our own country, but we still are preserving our Vietnamese culture," Tran said.

Many Vietnamese-Americans attend Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, 248 DeWitt St., or the Buddhist Cultural Center and Temple, 647 Fillmore Ave., Tran said.

Sunday's party was complete with brightly costumed dancers ranging from young children to mature adults. Native drummers provided rhythm, and a duo sang "Beautiful Saigon" in Vietnamese. Native foods, jewelry and Vietnamese books and magazines were sold.

Brian Rusk, representing the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation, reminded the partygoers that medical experts in Buffalo had teamed up to provide intricate surgery for patients who could not be treated in Vietnam, establishing an enduring bond between two cultures on opposite sides of the earth.

Among the highlights of the evening was an energetic dance by a brightly costumed dragon in yellow, red and silver, with two dancers inside the costume. The program included singing of both the U.S. and Vietnamese national anthems. The stage was decorated with U.S. and Vietnamese flags, and with two lighted, ceremonial candles.

Related photo on the Picture Page, C10.