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City says it can't afford to pay for Tet parade in Little Saigon

January 10, 2013 |  3:43 pm

Tet celebration in 2003.

The city that gave birth to Little Saigon is unable to help pay for the annual Tet parade and is asking residents in the heavily Vietnamese city to quickly ramp up a fundraising effort to help save a traditional event that marks the arrival of the Lunar New Year.

The Tet parade dates back 30 years in Westminster, an Orange County city that became a hub for Vietnamese immigrants after the fall of Saigon in 1975. The event was canceled in 2004 after losing money but returned four years later when the city again infused it with funds.

But this year, with a budget shortfall, the City Council gave organizers a parade permit but said there wasn’t enough money to help cover the $60,000 tab.

Tri Ta, the first Vietnamese American mayor of the city, described the parade "as a beautiful, cultural tradition that should be preserved," even if the city cannot contribute financially.

"I've been marching in that parade since I was in high school," added Councilman Sergio Contreras. "It's a staple -- a part of Westminster. I would like to see it continue."

Contreras, a member of the marching band at Westminster High School during the 1990s, said he was impressed upon hearing that immigrant activists had recently raised $200,000 in four weeks for victims of super storm Sandy.

"It sounds like they can come up with money in no time," he noted. "I think it's exciting that leaders are willing to step up and make it happen."

The parade, scheduled for Feb. 9, highlights the Lunar New Year, the community's biggest holiday. Its stage is Bolsa Avenue, the main drag for the largest Vietnamese cultural and business district outside the country itself, drawing a who's who among Vietnamese Americans along with Southern California VIPs as headliners.

Many wear traditional dress, sporting bilingual signs on colorful floats or cars, and politicians courting the immigrant vote make an appearance.

Billy Le, who heads the Union of Vietnamese Student Associations of Southern California, said he will help lead fundraising, adding that his group will act as liaison between city officials and the community. The student association has a wide network, stemming from hosting what is billed as the largest Lunar New Year festival in the world for more than 20 years.

The $60,000 tab is expected to pay for city employees in charge of traffic and public safety, and to rent fence barriers lining the parade route. Initially, organizers proposed hiring private security, but council members opposed.

"We want our best-trained officers out there to make sure things are successful like in the past," Contreras said. "In the long run, we want to make this memorable for everyone involved."


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-- Anh Do in Westminster

Twitter: @newsterrier

Photo: Tet celebration in 2003. Credit: Los Angeles Times