Asian Communities celebrate New Year in Glenhaven Park

Discover why, until recently, Portland’s Cambodia, Laotian, Thai, and Burmese held individual celebrations – but now join in an outer East Portland park to welcome their New Year …

Cambodian American Community of Oregon sings a popular New Year celebration karaoke song from the 1990s during the New Year in the Park festivity.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Historically, Portland’s Cambodia, Laotian, Thai, and Burmese always held separate New Year celebrations in the springtime.  But, for the second year now, these different cultures celebrated together in Glenhaven Park on April 30 – at the event they call Cambodian/Lao/Thai/Burmese New Year in the Park: A celebration of Southeast Asian cultures.

> See our story covering the inaugural group celebration last year: CLICK HERE.

At the organizers canopy Sokho Eath, Channbunmorl “Chom” Sou, Vieng Bounnam and Karen Guillen-Chapman from Portland Parks & Recreation welcome guests.

“I was asked to help this year by Saron Khut of Mekong Bistro,” said co-organizer Channbunmorl “Chom” Sou, who said he identifies as a Cambodian.

“This year it’s even bigger,” Sou said. “This is important, because it reminds is of our home country, where we’d gather together with our communities – and if Buddhist, go to the temple. New Year is when everyone goes together at one time; a place to be with family; family is so important.”

The best part of this celebration for him, Sou told East Portland News, is “being visible in our community; not being invisible anymore is important to me.”

Food, clothing, and sweets from Asian cultures are available for sale from the many vendors at the festival.

Performing the “Fon Tee”, or “Umbrella Dance” in the Thai language, are dancers from the Thai Association of Oregon.

On a stage under a large tent, those who came saw performances by the Cambodian Dance Troupe of Oregon, Cambodian American Community of Oregon, Khana Luke Larn Lao Dance Troupe, Kinnaly Lao Music & Dance Troupe, Thai Bumblebee, Thai Association, and Burmese Community of Oregon.

A first-generation American, Sokho Eath said he was in born Portland to a Cambodian refugee family.

“Much of our culture, heritage, and knowledge of our own language, is sometimes lost among young people when we grow up here,” Eath said. “Working together, with our elders, we’re able to help keep our cultural heritage alive. I think this one of the most important parts of this celebration.”

Eath noted that, this year, in the spirit of inclusiveness, organizers invited those from the Burmese community to celebrate as well, even though they’d held their own “Water Celebration” on April 23.

“It’s all about keeping a sense of community; coming together to represent our cultures and preserve our heritage,” Eath said.

Minea, of Mekong Bistro cooks fresh delicacies in a giant wok.

his trio with Khao Niew tempts festival-goers with “Lao street food”.

The food cooking by vendors representing Lao, Khmer, Thai, and Hmong cultures filled the air with savory and sweet scents. Business was so brisk, some vendors ran out of food by mid-afternoon.

“Also, we’re here to showcase our cultures to the greater Portland community,” Eath added. “Many of our community members want to ensure that the next generation knows about our culture, and celebrates our New Year, with the sights, smells, and sounds such as we would find in our homelands.”

The exuberant dance celebration spills outside – and travels, conga-line style, around the festival.

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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