Hoi An lanterns

A Lunar New Year Tradition from Vietnam Arrives in Southern California


From January 21-22, 2023, a tradition from Ho Chi Minh City—formerly known as Saigon— blossoms halfway across the world for the first time in Orange County, California. This tradition is known as the “Flower Street,” and it is modeled after a yearly event commonly held on the famous Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Street in Ho Chi Minh City during Lunar New Year, or Tết in Vietnamese.

During this event, the Historic Main Street of Garden Grove is adorned with displays of flowers, as well as beautifully crafted flower statutes in the form of a variety of objects, most notably in the shape of a cat. The presence of a cat is due to the Vietnamese zodiac. Lunar New Year 2023 marks the Year of the Cat in the Vietnamese Zodiac, instead of the Rabbit, as it is in other zodiacs across the region. The origin of this difference is debated, with a variety of linguistic, geographical, and historical theories providing different explanations.

The Flower Street is a part of a larger week of celebration for Tết, which included a Flower Festival at the Phước Lộc Thọ Shopping Center—or the Asian Garden Mall—from January 4-20. This will take place alongside a firecracker ceremony and a parade held on the first weekend of the Lunar New Year.

The ability to hold large-scale Tết celebrations in this part of the country holds historical significance. This area, which is made up from portions of the cities of Westminster and Garden Grove, is more commonly known as “Little Saigon” by locals, and according to the City of Westminster, it is unofficially referred to as the “Vietnamese Capital of the United States.”

Little Saigon, and the Southern California region at large, is home to the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam. As of 2021, the Vietnamese population in the United States stands at about 1.89 million people. The Los Angeles area alone, which includes Little Saigon, is home to around 346,000 people of Vietnamese descent. Many relocated to communities like Little Saigon across the country following the events of the Vietnam War.

The annual Tết celebration is one that ensures Vietnamese Americans and the Vietnamese community have the ability to connect back with their roots, especially for those who were born and raised in Vietnam before their departure in the 1970s. It is also significant for their children and grandchildren who grew up in the United States, who only know of Vietnam through the memories of the generations that came before them.

The theme for this year’s Tết celebration is Chủ Đề Xuân Hy Vọng, or “Spring of Hope,” and reflects the community’s desire for growth, especially as the world is still recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ramil Mercado is a participant of the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C. He is a first-year master's student at American University’s School of International Service studying International Affairs with a focus on the Indo-Pacific region.