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Vietnamese-American Community’s 10th Anniversary in July 4th Parade

By Jackie Bong-Wright

In the year 2001, the U.S. celebrated its 225th Independence Day and the Vietnamese-American community commemorated its tenth year as a participant in the July 4th Parade. It started in 1991 under the leadership of Mr. Tran Nhat Thang, the first elected President of the Vietnamese-American Community, Washington metropolitan area.

Colorful “Ao Dzai” National Costumes and Fan Dance

This year the Vietnamese performed the Fan Dance choreographed by well-known professor Kim Oanh. She has played a leading role in teaching, maintaining, and passing on Vietnam’s traditional arts, music, and dances to the younger generation of Vietnamese-Americans. With a swift mind and magical fingers, she creates picturesque scenes with very few resources.
One of her devotees is 16 year-old Minh Chau Dinh, Youth Coordinator of the Vietnamese-American July 4 Parade. Minh Chau has been involved in the parade with the rest of her family for the past eight years. This year, her father, Cuong Dinh Hung, a former officer in the Vietnamese army, saw to it that everything was in place, including the people, the transportation, and the refreshments. Her mother had helped raise funds and sew for the girls, while her older brother took care of the sound system and the march music.
When the Vietnamese float emerged, it had four tall columns, each topped by the numbers 2001, and children from three to eight, wearing the “Ao Dzai,” the Vietnamese national costume. This is a long tunic, tight at the neck and the body, falling down below the knees, with two panels open at waist level worn on top of either black or white or matching pants. A dozen Vietnamese men from Pennsylvania in military uniforms followed the float, holding and saluting the American flag and the Vietnamese flag with its three red stripes.
Behind them, Minh Chau led 30 high school students dressed in colorful ao dzais, including two American friends, Christine Rosenberg and Laura Shear. Each girl held two large orange fans with a dragon on one side and the Vietnamese flag on the other. In unison, they waved the fans up and down and side to side, creating an impressive ripple effect for the thousands of spectators lining both sides of Constitution Avenue.

Ethnic Hill-Tribe and Imperial Costumes

Next in the parade was a group of women from central and North Vietnam wearing the ethnic hill-tribe costumes. Ann Buffam, a teacher of English-as-a-second-language and a computer programmer, marched Indian-style with some of her elderly Vietnamese students. She said that Kim Oanh had dressed them all in typical minority ethnic outfits with a green silk undershirt, red open silk blouse, long skirt, and colored silk belts. She said her big beautiful flat straw hat had shielded her from the 90-degree heat. She confided that the parade brought her close to tears — the sound of the heroic marching music, the emotional Vietnamese words, the huge applause from a crowd expressing its affection and admiration for the Vietnamese people. She said that herself was overwhelmed with good feelings for having shared the American culture with her Vietnamese students. She hopes to celebrate the tenth anniversary of her teaching with her students in Saigon next year.
Among the most acclaimed of the Vietnamese marchers were the two dozen middle-aged Vietnamese ladies in orange ao dzais topped by a matching imperial turban. They waved green feathered-fans and saluted the clapping crowds. Braving the grilling sun, they said they were proud of having done their civic duty for their adopted homeland.
Finally, files of young male college students, also wearing the traditional brocade costumes and holding flags, closed the ranks of the Vietnamese parade.
Mr. Giap Ngoc Phuc, 83, President of the Vietnamese-American Community, declared that the Vietnamese-Americans would not miss the July 4th parade for any reason. He hoped that the younger generation of Vietnamese-Americans would continue that tradition for as long as they lived in this free and democratic country.