Kentridge alumnus steps up, helps plan large cultural event for Vietnamese community | SLIDESHOW

Thomas Bui and Verlinda Vu, right, along with members from Seattle University
Thomas Bui and Verlinda Vu, right, along with members from Seattle University's VSA club, perform a dance on stage in the Fisher Pavilion at this year's Tét Festival in Seattle.
— image credit: Michelle Conerly, Kent Reporter

It was something close to his heart. It was a part of his childhood, his culture. And this year, the holiday event was on the verge of being cancelled.

"The old board (of directors) ... they were too busy," said Thomas Bui, a Kentridge High School graduate and Seattle University student who is a leader in the Vietnamese community. "(But canceling) wasn't an option or us."

So every Saturday morning, Bui drove from Kent to Seattle to meet up with his friends, Tin Bui and Henry Doan. For two to three hours, they would discuss event details, apply for grants and schedule performances. They were going to make this work, no matter what.

"We had three months to plan this event," Bui said. "We all volunteered for positions we thought we could handle. We were going to do it."

And that they did.

Bui and his executive board put together the Tét Festival at the Seattle Center Armory and Fisher Pavilion on Feb. 16-17.

Bui is the co-executive director for the Tét in Seattle organization and president of Seattle U's Vietnamese Student Association (VSA). Bui commutes to Seattle daily, and even though he's extremely busy, he always makes time for family.

"Home is home," Bui said. "(And) family is a crucial part of my culture."

Another crucial part of his culture is the tradition of Tét, the Vietnamese community's New Year's celebration.

"Every year, New Year's brings everyone together," Bui said. "It's what I grew up knowing, and it's a way to share a part of me and my community with everyone."

So when it was brought to Bui's attention that this year's board of directors didn't have time to plan Tét, he and his friends stepped up and took charge.

The versatility of the armory and Fisher Pavilion allowed for many small sections of Tét to happen simultaneously. Three professional singers performed over the course of the weekend, hot food was served each day, and VSA members from the University of Washington and Seattle U manned booths with games and prizes. There were also many activities for children.

"The kids portion is very important to us because we want to make sure our culture stays with the youth, and as they grow up, they feel a part of this culture," Bui said.

That's why Bui and the rest of the executive board organized a spelling bee and knowledge bowl especially for kids. They also set up arts and crafts paid for by a grant given to them by the city of Seattle.

Dressed in their traditional ao dai outfits, little girls chased each other through booths and rows of chairs while children's groups performed on the small stage in the armory.

Families enjoyed food and games while seeing old friends and making new ones.

The hard work and sleepless nights had paid off because the weekend was everything Bui and his friends imagined it to be and more.

"It's always the planning process with these types of events," Bui said, "but once you get to the weekend of the event, everything is in place. (And) the weekend went great."




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