Thousands of revelers packed the sidewalks in Westminster Sunday morning, Jan. 22, holding blue and orange balloons and craning to catch glimpses of drummers, a lion dance and musical performances.
But about 12 hours earlier, in Monterey Park in Los Angeles County, a gunman opened fire in a dance hall killing 11 people and injuring nearly a dozen others.
As details of the tragedy began to emerge, about 30 miles south in Westminster — the heart of Little Saigon and another community epicenter for Asian Americans — city officials and law enforcement worked through the night collaborating with police departments in other cities to put together a comprehensive safety plan, including increased public safety personnel and undercover security, for the annual Tet parade.
Related: Find more coverage of the Monterey Park mass shooting here.
As the Lunar New Year — or, for the Vietnamese community in Little Saigon, Tet, as they call it — dawned Sunday morning, Westminster Mayor Chi Charlie Nguyen said the city was on high alert. But still, it was important for celebrations to continue, he said, because of the holiday’s significance to the community.
“What happens on the first day of Tet is believed to set the tone for the rest of the year,” said city manager Christine Cordon. That’s why many Tet traditions, Cordon said, are related to making amends with the past and starting the new year with a clean slate.
Keeping with that spirit, Nguyen said, it was important for celebrations to take place on the first day.
Canceling the parade would have been “devastating to the spirit of all those who celebrate the Lunar New Year as a time of progress, hope and new beginnings,” Cordon said.
This year’s parade was the largest crowd ever with staff estimating about 10,000 to 15,000 people attended, Cordon said.
The parade is a longstanding 20-year tradition in Westminster, drawing large crowds in person but also online with people tuning in to watch the live stream from countries like Denmark, Vietnam and Canada.
“We don’t want to disappoint them when they come here for the New Year,” Nguyen said, noting people come from all across the country.
“If we change our community’s long-held tradition because of the hateful action of one unstable person, he would have won,” said Councilmember Amy Phan West. “I will not surrender our way of life to a deranged man and let him stop Tet, a sacred time that marks revival in our community.”
Councilmember Carlos Manzo credited city staff and law enforcement for their efforts in organizing the large-scale event despite the nearby tragedy.
“Our hearts and prayers and thoughts are with the families (affected by the tragedy),” Manzo said. “This (Tet parade) is a long-lasting tradition. … I think it’s important to continue because when we start changing our lives to fears is when we start losing.”
In the face of a tragedy like the Monterey Park mass shooting, Manzo said, “we need to continue to do what we can to support each other in the community and just be there for one another, and that’s why I think it was important for us to continue.”
“The parade represents a celebration of life and community unity while its occurrence in the aftermath of a horrendous tragedy, implicitly confirms our collective rejection of fear, death, and violence,” said Councilmember NamQuan Nguyen, who was attending his first Tet parade as a newly-elected member of the City Council.
The day’s proceedings started with musical performances and lion dances. All the councilmembers came together to light red firecrackers, meant to ward off evil spirits, and kickstart the parade. A procession of flower floats, revelers, various city departments and dancers snaked their way through Bolsa Avenue eastbound toward Bushard Street. Also present at the event were Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do and Assemblymember Tri Ta.
This year’s celebrations paid homage to the “Year of the Cat,” according to the Vietnamese zodiac calendar.
Chi Charlie Nguyen, the mayor, hopes the event will continue to be a longstanding tradition for the city of Westminster and the Vietnamese community in the years to come.
Source: Orange County Register
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