Being a Vietnamese-American living in Boston, it only seems fit to volunteer at Tet in Boston. I had volunteered the previous year and the experience was culturally invigorating and dazzling. The event I attended was the 34th annual celebration of the Vietnamese New Year, known as Tet. It brought Vietnamese culture to the light of the general Boston public using exhilarating performances and traditional food stands. It’s also mainly held up by volunteers instead of workers, giving out a plethora of opportunities to those who want to enrich the community. Knowing that volunteers are their life and blood, they do everything to better their experience working at Tet in Boston. I was accustomed to abundant free food and drinks, break shifts, flexibility, and community service hours. I believe everyone should attend at least once, either as a visitor or volunteer, just for the revitalized culture of Vietnam there.
Now, how exactly does an event of this grandeur stay afloat? Tet in Boston is backed by two organizations; The Vietnamese-American Community of Massachusetts (VACM), and the New England Intercollegiate Vietnamese Student Association (NEIVSA). VACM is the umbrella organization to advocate for the protection of human rights for Vietnamese refugees and people in Vietnam. NEIVSA is a non-profit organization focused on giving Vietnamese/Vietnamese-American young professionals a new awareness of Vietnamese culture, language, and history, maintaining a professional network, and encouraging participation, leadership, and service. These two goals mend well with what Tet in Boston achieves, a celebration of Vietnamese heritage able to educate and entertain both viewers and volunteers.
None of that would be nearly as feasible without the heart and joy of the event, the performances. I luckily had firsthand experience interviewing the president of NEVSCA, a yearly performer, last year’s entertainment director, and this year’s volunteer management director, Natalie Nguyen. She has performed for her Vietnamese Traditional Martial Arts Academy for many years now and has moved up to director soon into college after her desire to participate in her community. That desire is reflected in her performances, and so is her culture. As said by herself, quote “So I feel like this event and whatnot has given me a chance to kind of want to showcase a new part of the culture, especially in history with martial arts and how that kind of plays into Vietnamese history. It gives me a chance to kind of work alongside my dad and figure out, okay, how do we want to portray the history for this year? What part of the history of martial arts would we like to portray?” This sentiment of spreading culture is shared throughout all performances, wondering which way is best to showcase their pride. These spectacles are explosive displays of what it means to be Vietnamese. Unashamed, unabashed, unabridged Vietnam.
Natalie is also the volunteer director, and if the performances are the heart and joy, then the volunteers are the blood that keeps it running. Their sense of community that holds the event together could not exist without the volunteers, and I say this not to impose my self-importance as a volunteer myself. That was said by the director herself. Tet in Boston is a volunteer-powered event, where each individual does their part in maintaining this event. Students can get a majority of their community hours volunteering here alone. Volunteers get abundant accommodations such as food, drinks, free passes to the event itself, and more. This way of operating may seem to bring a sense of chaos, but in actuality, it brings everyone together for the distinct goal of cultivating this event. I mean, what is a culture without people?
As a volunteer myself, I have my own experience to back up the things I say. I will be rating Tet in Boston by their main goals: sharing culture and giving volunteering opportunities. My main criticism as a volunteer would be that organizing a hundred of us is not easy. There were frequent times when I was wandering looking for work around the festival. That difficulty increased exponentially when they said that we would be able to take different posts for jobs to be able to experience new areas. Working around your other volunteer breaks, which can be any moment, was disorientating. You have to be flexible and independent around your shifts, but this disarray is combated by the aforementioned accommodations. The organizers were not once rude or tempered. They choose to pick the volunteers as a priority over themselves. Each one is kind and understanding. You can take breaks during moments of high stress, and feel welcomed to a break room filled to the brim with free food. During my time, it was banh bao, a Vietnamese bun filled with meat and veggies, banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich between two baguettes, sugar cane water, instant coffee and noodles, and of course water. My rating of how well they achieved this goal would be a 4 out of 5.
My shifts happened to not overlap whatsoever with the performances, so I did not get to see them myself. I don’t think it would have been my thing anyways, as I’m not so much a fan of crowded areas and bright lights. I cannot speak on that side of cultural exposure, but I can talk about the decor and general theme of the event. I’ll admit, I am not the most attuned to my Vietnamese background, but the aesthetics of the event were top-notch. Each one was pretty yet invigorating. Despite my limited scope, I would rate it 5 out of 5 with just the decor I saw.
Tet in Boston is one of the best ways to either witness spectacles, cultivate cultures, or simply gain volunteering hours. The event is something to behold. It oozes diversity and culture and brings the entirety of a community to celebrate.
Be mindful of the date 1/15 next year, located at Flynn Airport! If you wish for extra details, go to their website here.