VSA Lunar Lanterns: A Vietnamese Tradition Lit Anew in College Park

By Paige Munshell

As the sunset cast a shadow over the McKeldin Mall Sept. 27, the fountain began to light up as the Mid-Autumn Festival began. Traditional hand and water lanterns were sold while American pop music blasted from speakers. President of the UMCP Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) Dennis Do, a first year masters student in Geo Spatial Information and Sciences, said the festival was a chance to “share a part of our culture.”

Students who attend VSA events “don’t have to have a background” in Vietnamese culture, so it is a chance to share with everyone.

The Mid-Autumn festival is known as “Tet Trung Thu” in Vietnamese. Public Relations representative Tiffany Cao, a Sophomore Biology major, said the festival is a time to “celebrate the harvest and honor the youth because during the year the family would be working a lot harvesting.”

The festival offers a chance for family and friends to convene briefly before returning to the harvest. Cao elaborated that the celebration occurring Wednesday paralleled the traditional significance of the festival, as it is “a time for everyone in College Park to come together to celebrate before the hard work comes.”

Traditional aspects of the cultural festival mixed with modern influence as students crowded together on the mall to celebrate. Student artists performed on a makeshift cardboard stage, causing the crowd to gasp in shock as fire performers acrobatically moved among hoops and chains that were ablaze. Students drank bubble tea sold by VSA and ate takeout from the Stamp Student Union.

Freshman Letters and Sciences major Christine Hwang is not a part of VSA, but was drawn to the festivities. Hwang is a part of the Taiwanese American Student Association (TASA) and came with people from the organization. She said “a lot of the Asian [organizations] are connected.”

As night fell, students were finally able to light their lanterns and float them upon the water. A beautiful cascade of shimmering light floated down the mall. People discarded their shoes to wade out into the fountain, cellphones up in the air as they crowded together to take photos. VSA Cultural Chair Chrisy Nguyen, a junior Biology major, said the “light signifies a new year” and it was tradition to celebrate with lanterns every mid-autumn festival.

The benefits of the festival travel far beyond cultural knowledge. Every year, VSAs from across the country come together in a conference where they choose to support different philanthropic efforts. One of the efforts this year is the Pacific Links Foundation (PALS).

Chuck Cao, Treasurer of the Mid Atlantic Union of VSA, said the charity supports “returning survivors of human trafficking to Vietnam” and “provide personal hygiene products, clothes” and have “given vocational training and therapy.”

The profits from the Mid-Autumn festival on this campus helped support the efforts of PALS. As the lanterns floated down the fountain on McKeldin, there was hope a survivor in Vietnam will be able to light their own lantern, and celebrate the harvest.

Featured Photo Credit: Heather Kim / Bloc Photographer 

Paige Munshell is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at pmunshel@terpmail.umd.edu.

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