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Tet Festival shows how celebrating culture improves health

Eastside neighbors told us they wanted multicultural celebrations through Tacoma Creates voting last year. In January, more than 1,700 people celebrated Tết at the Eastside Community Center. 

Your community and culture affect your health! People are healthier when they:

  • Build strong networks. 
  • Connect with neighbors.
  • Feel supported and included

It’s National Public Health Week and today’s topic is community. The theme this year—Centering and Celebrating Cultures in Health—is front of mind for us. 

We all learn from our communities—the ones we’re born in and the ones we build together. Our partnership with the community, Metro Parks Tacoma, and Tacoma Creates on a Tết Festival in East Tacoma earlier this year shows how celebrating and centering culture builds community—and can help improve health.

A record-breaking celebration.

More than 1,700 people celebrated Tết (the Vietnamese Lunar New Year) at the Eastside Community Center in January. The holiday is a time for Vietnamese people to come together, reconnect with their culture, and honor their ancestors. The largest crowd in the Eastside Community Center’s history turned up to eat, dance, celebrate, and learn.

Through Tacoma Creates, people who live, work, learn and play in East Tacoma had voted on what cultural programming they wanted to see. About 65% of the votes were for a multicultural festival series. Tết Lunar New Year was the first event. Later this year, East Tacoma will host festivals for Juneteenth and Día de los Muertos.

East Tacoma is one of Pierce County’s most diverse neighborhoods. Reaching everyone means reaching out in different languages. Our community engagement team worked with community leaders and cultural ambassadors to make sure everyone could vote.

Thanks to the leadership of community groups like Golden Bamboo, more than 1,500 people cast their votes in Vietnamese. That was nearly 30% of the total vote! That’s a big reason the event had such a great crowd: it reflected what people in the neighborhood wanted. 

Learning, teaching and celebrating—together.

The large and happy crowd showed how important it is for the community to have the power to decide how to spend public money. 

While people in the community got the vote out, they also shaped the event from the ground up. 

Lisa Mathusz began teaching Vietnamese cultural dancing to young girls in the early 1990s. She started a dance group called the Sunflowers, made up of children who were refugees. The goal: help the kids stay connected to  their culture, find social support, and practice English together. Lisa also started organizing small cultural celebrations like Tết New Year so the Sunflowers would have a place to perform, and attendees could also stay connected to their culture and each other. 

The Tết New Year celebration grew as more organizations and people joined the planning committee. The Golden Bamboo walking group, the Trưng Vương Vietnamese Women’s Association, the Vietnamese American Community Association, and  Chùa Phước Huệ Buddhist Temple contributed. Each met different needs of Vietnamese immigrant and refugee communities across generations. But Lisa had a vision: People from all backgrounds in East Tacoma could share their culture and celebrate together. 

 “I am most importantly educating our Vietnamese children so that they don’t lose their connection to their cultures and their homelands and their ancestors,” Lisa said. “But I also wanted to share our beautiful Vietnamese culture with a wider American audience, as I learn from their culture, and we learn from each other.” 

At January’s festival, Lisa’s vision unfolded.  A large and diverse crowd gathered to learn about and celebrate Vietnamese culture. 

The Sunflowers Dance Troupe blossomed at the event, with many grandchildren of the original members performing! 

It’s not Tết without delicious (and safe!) food.

Community members also enjoyed  a traditional meal—for free.  Traditional dishes like bánh Tết (sticky rice cakes) and chả giò (spring rolls) are staples of the celebration. 

Our Food and Community Safety staff partnered with the Eastside Tết committee to make sure people could celebrate with safe, delicious cultural foods community volunteers preparedness. The Volunteers got to use the Eastside Community Center full-service kitchen. Our team helped work through the permit process and provided culturally relevant food safety education. We also had staff onsite to ensure everyone’s food was safe. And we worked with Metro Parks Tacoma staff to ensure everything we learned will pave the way for other groups’ cultural events and the Eastside Community Center and other MetroParks’ venues!

Community, culture and your health.

When you are  connected to loved ones and your community, you have better health. These connections support:

  • Better emotional health and less depression.
  • Immunity to diseases.
  • Longer life expectancy.

About 25 percent of us don’t have a single person we can confide in. But to be our healthiest, we need at least 3 people we can count on. 

Events like the Tết Festival provide a fun way to build new connections, enjoy your community and celebrate culture.  Neighborhoods with places to gather and positive activities strengthen a sense of belonging and trust.

A time to celebrate and learn about public health.

We’ll be talking more about National Public Health Week all week. This week’s themes are:

  • Monday: Community.
  • Tuesday: Violence prevention.
  • Wednesday: Reproductive and sexual health.
  • Thursday: Mental health.
  • Friday: Rural health.
  • Saturday: Accessibility.
  • Sunday: Food and nutrition.

Follow our social media accounts as we dive into each theme! And sign up for the Your Reliable Source blog for regular updates on important public health topics.