Roots. The usual picture that comes to mind is the underground portion of a plant that draws nutrients and supports growth. But roots also can be intangible, referring to one’s basic core or origin. It was the latter definition that was in focus at the Tet:Vietnamese New Year observance at the Thomas Jefferson Library on Route 50 last Saturday.
The occasion was a celebration of a $20,000 ExxonMobil grant for the Vietnamese children’s book collection at the library. The grant was the third in a series of ExxonMobil grants to provide children’s books in other languages. Previous gifts purchased books in Spanish and Korean. Some books are bilingual, with English and another language side by side, so that children and their parents can read to one another in their language proficiency. Practicing English, while keeping their native language alive, can make both adult and child bilingual, a goal of ExxonMobil for their employees, according to Patrick Dexter, Headquarters Community Relations Advisor for the corporation, and a member of the Fairfax County Public Library Foundation.
The celebration also featured the Vietnamese Teens Group of Virginia in a musical performance, “Playing Dan Tranh.” Three young Vietnamese-American children, dressed in the colorful silks and gold headdresses of Vietnam, played four folk tunes on long, lute-like instruments they balanced on their knees and strummed with pointed picks fitted over their fingertips. The resulting sound was not unlike the strains of a dulcimer in American folk music.
In comments about the “Vietnamese in America” culture, LamBao Nguyen, vice chairman of the Vietnamese Community of DC, MD, & VA, a co-sponsor of the event, talked about the significance of the Tet observance. This is the Year of the Pig and the traditional Vietnamese New Year wishes are for longevity, prosperity, and happiness. For Vietnamese refugees in this country, she said, those good wishes extend to freedom and an opportunity for a better life for their children. However, she added, there is a strong desire by parents and grandparents to remember their roots in Vietnamese culture and tradition, and pass those qualities along to future generations. The children’s book collection at the Thomas Jefferson Library will help achieve that goal.
The observance concluded with a traditional American ribbon-cutting and the distribution of Vietnamese New Year’s “Lucky Money” in shiny red and gold envelopes. For more information about children’s books in bilingual format, contact your local Fairfax County branch library. Information about the Fairfax County Public Library Foundation may be found on the Web at www.fcplfoundation.org, or call 703/324-8300.