Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

35th annual ‘Tết in Boston’ festival offers the Vietnamese community a sense of home

Jack Burns
Eventgoers find a spot to enjoy their drinks. (Jack Burns for the Beacon)

Nestled inside an unassuming cruise terminal on the South Boston waterfront laid the vibrant 35th annual “Tết in Boston” festival, filled with Vietnamese families indulging in traditional cuisines, connecting with local businesses, and enjoying live performances.

Over 75 vendors and thousands of attendees packed the Flynn Cruiseport Terminal on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to celebrate Tết Nguyên Đán, which means “festival of the first morning of the first day.” 2024 welcomes the Year of the Dragon as the holiday honors the arrival of spring based on the Vietnamese calendar.

The festival was organized by Tết in Boston, a volunteer-based community organization led by the Vietnamese American Community of Massachusetts (VACM) and the New England Intercollegiate Vietnamese Student Association (NEIVSA). 

For Steven To, the sold-out event was an opportunity to connect with his Vietnamese roots as well as introduce a few of his Chinese and Latino friends to his culture. 

He even encouraged his friend to buy his first áo dài, a long and colorful tunic that is dressed over silk trousers. The traditional Vietnamese garment is worn most often during Tết as a symbol of luck and prosperity. 

“It’s kind of like Vietnam,” he said while gesturing to the lively crowd. “I didn’t know there was that big of a Vietnamese population in Boston.”

To’s friend purchased the áo dài from a local Vietnamese-owned business called Áo Dai By Sen. The Arlington-based store and showroom for traditional Vietnamese formal wear is owned by Vinh Lee and his wife. They have been vendors at this festival for three consecutive years now.

“It is always an event that we look forward to throughout the year,” Lee said. “This year, I see an incredible, increasing amount of people which is a good sign because we have a growing community here.”

One of the food vendors that constantly attracted attention was Akoko Cafe, an eatery that sells authentic Vietnamese desserts like chè, a popular traditional sweet pudding.

Photo: Jack Burns
Akoko Cafe is serving a U.S. Army ROTC member at the 35th annual “Tết in Boston” festival on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. (Jack Burns for the Beacon)

Pete Om, a co-founder of New England chain Akoko Cafe, said their restaurant creates new menu items and specialty drinks for the occasion. 

“We’ve always been proud to support the community. This is a really fun festival, and the turnout is great,” Om said. “It’s just something that we’re proud to be a part of.”

Om started the cafe with his husband and business partner, Eric Lee, seven years ago. They worked beside each other all day, along with several other employees, constantly laughing and striking up conversations with customers.  

Om, a Cambodian American, learned about Tết after marrying his Vietnamese husband. For the past 16 years of marriage, the couple has celebrated both Tết and Choul Chnam Thmey, the Cambodian New Year. 

“My favorite [tradition] is decorating,” Om said. “I love to hang up the lanterns and put the charms on the flowers. We do it every year, so it’s become something that’s very special.”

Just a few tables away from Akoko Cafe was a family-owned business called Thư Pháp Trang Trần Calligraphy. The vendor sold authentic trinkets such as Chinese zodiac keychains and tiger eye bracelets directly imported from Vietnam. 

16-year-old Thiên Phúc Nguyen took special pride in their stand’s hand-made thư pháp, Vietnamese calligraphy art. Her mom, Trang Trần, custom paints traditional banners and scrolls with ancient-style Vietnamese script. During Tết, they sell painted pomelo—the citrus fruit popularly considered a gift of good luck.  

Nguyen said their family enjoys meeting other Vietnamese people in Boston through their art. 

“There’s a big Vietnamese community here, so I feel connected,” Nguyen said.

Photo: Jack Burns
A crowded escalator connects the two floors of the festival at the 35th annual “Tết in Boston” festival on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. (Jack Burns for the Beacon)

For many attendees, the Tết celebration isn’t just a fun event. It is also crucial to the preservation of identity and culture. Angie Le and Alec Burns, the parents of a biracial white and Asian family, waited in the cold with their two children for an hour and a half to attend the festival. 

“My kids are inundated with things from my culture; eight hours a day, they see caucasian culture at school,” Burns said. “Whatever we can do outside of that, we try to do.”

For the past three years, the Burns-Le family has prioritized bringing 7-year-old Luna and 3-year-old Ian to the annual festival. They hope to continue exposing their children to Vietnamese culture, reminding them of the Asian half of their identity.

“When we keep our culture and our traditions, we keep our history,” Le said.

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About the Contributors
Sabrina Lam
Sabrina Lam, Staff Writer
Sabrina Lam (she/her) is a sophomore journalism major from Manchester, Connecticut. She is currently a Staff Writer for The Berkeley Beacon. Outside of the Beacon, Sabrina can be found strolling on Newbury St. or reading a book in The Boston Public Garden.
Jack Burns
Jack Burns, Staff Writer
Jack Burns (he/him) is a junior journalism major at Emerson. He is currently a staff writer for the Beacon. Aside from the Beacon, Jack is a member of the men’s lacrosse team at Emerson and enjoys taking pictures of the city in his free time.

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