San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

Welcoming a year of prosperity: San Diego community commemorates Year of the Dragon with 19th Annual Tét Festival

Community members celebrated Vietnamese tradition, culture and history during a 3-day event
Petrina Tran
A woman holding a child gives one of the lion dancers a red envelope at the Mira Mesa Tet Festival on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2024. In Vietnamese culture, red envelopes with money are fed to the performing lions to usher in good luck for the new year.

Sizzling sounds, the warm glow from lanterns, smoke, spices and the faint scent of rain mingled in the air at the Mira Mesa Tét festival. 

Crowds from all over the San Diego community gathered at the annual 3-day event that took place from Feb. 16-18. 

“It feels like walking into Vietnam,” said Tommy Tran, a fourth-year Aerospace Engineering student at San Diego State University. 

While “tét” itself means festival, it generally refers to the Vietnamese Lunar New Year.

Whether it’s red envelopes full of money, elaborate lion dances or the large family gatherings with tabletops full of food and gifts, Lunar New Year is widely celebrated across Southeast Asia. 

The date changes every year as it follows the Lunar calendar, but falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. 

This year is marked by the Dragon, the only mythical creature in the Chinese zodiac and one of the most highly revered. It is seen as an auspicious animal, an ancestor of the Vietnamese people, representing prosperity, power and strength.

In San Diego, the tradition is just as alive and well.

As lion dancers meandered among the crowd, people fed them red envelopes or “lì xì,” which is for good luck. 

Festival-goers also enjoyed the Ao Dai (a traditional dress) pageant, petting zoo, rides, endless food vendors and performances by local artists that formed an impressive entertainment lineup.

Amidst the upbeat music that is all too familiar to those used to hearing “Paris-by-Night” playing on the TV at home, children and adults were dressed in brightly-colored traditional attire.

“The Vietnamese community in San Diego has been producing a Tét festival for decades. It used to be a small community festival rather than a big city-wide celebration,” said Alexander Nguyen, the entertainment chair of the San Diego Tét Festival. 

Historically, the event was held at the Qualcomm (now Snapdragon) Stadium and later moved to Balboa Park. The festival was inspired by Orange County’s Union of Vietnamese Student Associations Tét event (UVSA). 

According to Alexander Nguyen, the festival’s shift to Mira Mesa was due to Balboa Park’s centennial celebration occupying the venue. The move was meant to be temporary, but the neighborhood embraced the festival so much that it has stayed for the past 12 years. 

“I think it shows how important Vietnamese culture is to Mira Mesa and the San Diego community in general,” said Chris Nguyen, a long time resident of Mira Mesa and second-year graduate student at SDSU.

The event was organized by the Vietnamese American Youth Alliance (VAYA), a nonprofit organization that promotes youth leadership, cultural awareness, social activism and community development. 

In 2025, it will be the festival’s 20th anniversary.

“It’s a great way for us to celebrate as a community the Vietnamese culture. I highly encourage everyone to come join us,” said Kendra Nguyen, this year’s pageant winner who was crowned Miss Vietnam San Diego 2024.

About the Contributor
Petrina Tran, Photographer
Petrina Tran is a senior staff member majoring in Journalism and Media Studies with a minor in Linguistics. She was born in San Jose, CA, but grew up in Dubai, UAE for 12 years before returning to the United States for university. Petrina has a passion for storytelling through photography, connecting with people, and being in the community. She currently serves as Social Media Outreach officer for the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), writes, and photographs for The Daily Aztec. She has done numerous works covering the fires in Lahaina, Maui, the Kumeyaay Land Acknowledgement and native communities of San Diego, and local cultural events, just to name a few. Outside of The Daily Aztec, Petrina enjoys flying, baking, music, reading, and experiencing different languages and cultures. She is excited to learn, grow, and be challenged while serving both the school and the greater San Diego community.