Southeast Asian groups celebrate New Year

Take a look at this unique, colorful first-time-ever event, held in an outer East Portland City Park …

As many as 3,000 visitors attend the first-ever Cambodian – Lao – Thai (CLT) “New Year in the Park”.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

The organizers of the first-ever Cambodian/Lao/Thai (CLT) New Year in the Park, held in Glenhaven Park on April 25, were concerned about the dire weather forecasts for the day. But, they inadvertently cashed in on the luck of holding the event on the same day as the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade, held to the south – and were treated to beautiful day.

Three Southeast Asian cultures came together for a day full of food, music, dance, and games. Former Portland Mayor Tom Potter was the keynote speaker who kicked off the event.

Portland Office of Human Rights coordinator Ronault “Polo” Catalani introduces the event’s organizers, Jai Wang and Saron Khut.

One by one, representatives of Portland’s Laotian, Thai, Cambodian and Hmong communities care introduced on the CLT New Year in the Park main stage.

These three different cultural groups celebrate New Year each April, but Portland’s communities have always previously held separate celebrations.

The celebration’s Sponsorship Chair Chom Sou commented, “Many of us came to Oregon as immigrants or refugees, but as we’ve grown roots in Oregon, we’ve decided it’s time for CLT New Year in the Park to share our cultures with everyone. This is an amazing achievement, and it’s very exciting to bring our vibrant cultures together for the first time.”

Co-organizer Jai Wang says she’s proud how four divergent communities worked together to create the first CLT New Year in the Park event.

The sparkplug behind the event, and CLT Co-Founder, Saron Khut of Mekong Bistro said that the New Year in the Park festivity didn’t spontaneously come together overnight.

“About 10 years ago I traveled to celebrate New Year in California, because there was nothing here in Portland,” Khut told East Portland News.

“When I went down there for that celebration, I felt so jealous,” Khut reflected. “I felt bad that I had to fly all the way to Los Angeles – or even further, back home to Cambodia – to celebrate New Year! I wondered why I couldn’t celebrate here. I wanted to celebrate something here in Portland.”

Cambodian Dancers of Oregon present a cultural dance of welcome for visitors of the event.

These Thai Association of Oregon dancers are about to go on stage for their performance.

The idea stuck in the back of his mind until late last year, Khut revealed. “In November, I met with a representative of Portland Parks & Recreation. I told him that I wanted to hold an event in Portland where we can share our culture of Cambodia, Lao, and Thai people.”

He followed the Bureau’s advice, which was to form a committee. “I got the Laotian, Thai, Cambodian, and Hmong communities together working on it, and the result is this celebration here today.”

Former Portland Mayor Tom Potter visits with an exhibitor at the CLT New Year in the Park.

On stage, introducing representatives of the respective communities; meeting folks at the festival; and talking with us – Khut couldn’t help but smile.

“When I look out and see this today, at first it was like a dream, and now it is a dream come true,” Khut grinned. “Everything here is perfect; even the weather. It is amazing to see so many people coming here to celebrate with us – some people even came from Seattle to be with us today.”

Cooks from Amara Teriyaki grill “Khmer Combo” and “Lemongrass Chicken Skewers” for the hungry crowd.

Organizers Jai Wang and Saron Khut say about the celebration, “We’re so very happy; it’s like living a dream.

While many of the visitors were indeed Asian, Khut said the New Year in the Park celebration was intended for the entire community.

“In fact, I see this as the start of bringing everyone together, of all nationalities of people, here in the City of Portland, to celebrate as one. Although we come from different lands, Portland is now our home. And today, we’re welcoming everyone to celebrate with us.”

© 2015 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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