Firecrackers exploded throughout the streets of Garden Grove’s Little Saigon on Monday afternoon, as small businesses marked the start of the Lunar New Year. But for Nailing It For America, the group that organized a Tết celebration in the parking lot of Advance Beauty College, it also marked what the organization hopes will be the end of Asian hate spurred by COVID-19.
Nailing It For America was founded by Tam Nguyen, president of Advance Beauty College, and Ted Nguyen, senior manager at the Orange County Transportation Authority, who said the event would start the Year of the Tiger with a roar against anti-Asian hate.
“The Tết Lunar New Year is Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving and birthdays all rolled into one festive holiday for the Vietnamese community. After two years of the devastating pandemic and the virus of hate, Tết is a time to unite with each other safely in person on the first day of the year and call upon our ancestors’ spirits to help us overcome these dark times,” said Ted Nguyen. “The Year of the Tiger’s roar will drive away evil to bring hope, kindness and love.”
Garden Grove officials also said the event inspires hope, after the trying times the Asian community has endured.
“We have had some pretty rough years with assault on the Asian community,” said Councilwoman Kim Nguyen. “To be able to come together for this celebration to show community and solidarity, while also showcasing our rich culture to our communities around us is of the utmost importance right now.”
Little Saigon has been a hub for the Vietnamese American community since refugees from Vietnam began immigrating to Orange County in the mid-1970s. The event was open to all members of the community, but it wasn’t just the Vietnamese community that turned out.
“As you can see, the guests today are everyone in the community, coming together,” said Mayor Pro Tem Diedre Thu-Ha Nguyen. “You can see multigenerational guests here too.”
Musical performances and children’s activities were among the festivities. Information booths with community resources were also available.
During the traditional “Mua Lan” dance by the Qing Wei Lion and Dragon Cultural Troupe, parents hoisted children onto their shoulders, and red envelopes were handed out to the crowd.
“This is a unifying event,” said Kris Backouris, a community service officer with the Garden Grove Police Department. “It breaks down all the barriers.”
A highlight was the runway fashion show, showcasing the couture of the “Ao Dai,” a traditional Vietnamese tunic worn with long pants, reimagined with modern American accents.
Advance Beauty College was started by Tam Nguyen’s Vietnamese American refugee parents and has been a fixture to Garden Grove’s Vietnamese Americans.
“Advance Beauty College has been in the community for many years and they have always been very supportive of the community ” said Diedre Thu-Ha Nguyen. “We are very proud they choose Garden Grove as their home.”
Tam Nguyen’s business was hit hard during lockdown. Tam Nguyen and Ted Nguyen gathered other nail and beauty industry leaders like, Johnny Ngo of Whale Spa salon furniture store in Huntington Beach and Christie Nguyen of Tustin’s Studio 18 Nail Bar to create Nailing It For America.
Since its founding, the Orange County organization has provided $30 million worth of PPE and more than 80,000 restaurant meals to healthcare professionals, frontline workers and seniors. The group was also involved in finalizing safety guidelines for the reopening of nail salons in Southern California and has become an advocate for raising awareness of anti-Asian hate and violence.
The Mua Lan dance ended with firecrackers, a Tết Lunar New Year tradition meant to scare off evil spirits and invite positive energy. The mood was certainly positive.
“I am glad to be here to celebrate with my community and the city of Garden Grove,” said Kim Nguyen.
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