‘New Year in the Park’ continues to thrive

Here’s why this celebration of Cambodian, Laotian, Thai and Burmese cultures continues, in late April each year …

Depending on their country of origin, celebrants at Glenhaven Park in the Madison South neighborhood greet each other by saying, “Songkran”, “Sursdey Chnum Tmey”, “Pi Mai”, or “Thingyan”. It’s the annual “New Year in the Park” festival.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Since local restaurateur Saron Khut put forward the idea of holding a festival in 2015 honoring the New Year as celebrated by Cambodian, Laotian, Thai, and Burmese cultures – this year, officially from April 13 through April 15 – the celebration has continued to flourish.

  • To read about, and see photos of, the inaugural “New Year in the Park” festival, and discover why Saron Khut of Mekong Bistro worked so hard to create the event, with Portland Parks & Recreation as a partner: CLICK HERE.

Before they perform, these ladies – who call themselves the “Cambodian Angels” – pose for a photo.

This year, the fourth annual “New Year in the Park” festival took place on April 28 once again, held on the same day as the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade in the Lents and Montavilla neighborhoods.

The many families who attended the festival enjoyed cultural music and dance performances under cover of a giant tent, as well as culturally-authentic food, traditional games, and vendors.

Event volunteers Yazmeen Bounnam, Amphone Srizilai, and Tony Nguyen spend a moment with Event Chair Vieng Bounnam.

“We celebrate our New Year in April, following the ancient Hindu calendar,” explained Event Chair Vieng Bounnam. “I am first-generation from Laos, and here, we celebrate with our Laotian, Thai, Burmese, and Cambodian friends and families together, instead of holding separate celebrations!”

Performers with the Thai Association of Oregon perform a graceful cultural dance.

The staff from the Talai Thai restaurant in Vancouver serve hot lunches of savory favorites.

The scent of toothsome, savory food wafted from the food vendors set up along the north area of the park. Even though the cooks worked continuously, sometimes at a furious pace, to produce fresh, hot dishes, long lines of hungry festival-goers queued up for the culinary specialties.

“At this event we to introduce our customs to everyone; not only to our family and friends, but also with all of our neighbors, who we invite to come celebrate with us,” Bounnam told East Portland News.

Musicians with the Kinnaly Lao Music & Dance School perform “Lao Phene Noi”.

“When people get to know more about each other and their traditions, it breaks down a lot of barriers and helps build a cohesiveness that we need within our city,” Bounnam said.

In addition to the $20,000 raised by the dozen core committee members to fund the festival, many volunteers pitched in at the event. “Today, here at the park, more than 140 youths – from high school and college age – coming out to help today,” Bounnam remarked.

Scores of people come to enjoy the festivities, entertainment, and food during the 2018 “New Year in the Park”.

© 2018 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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