Author Archives: Phi Le

Vietnamese Ancestral Ceremonies

For as long as I can remember, on one special day of the month, every month, for the past ten plus years, my parents have paid tribute to their ancestors through ritualized ceremonies involving different Vietnamese dishes, incense, and an assortment of fruits. A vital part of Vietnamese culture is ancestor veneration, the act of paying respect to one’s passed relatives through food offerings and other ceremonies. It has been customary for Vietnamese people to honor the passing of a relative in order to show respect for the individual. Birthdays were seldom celebrated in Vietnamese culture before the influence of western culture.

I remember my mom waking up before anyone else just to prepare the food for the offerings. She would cook a plate of Banh bao (pork buns), Banh bot loc (Vietnamese ravioli), and even che ba mau (Vietnamese sweet bean dessert). I would help her place the plates of food onto the altar and then light up six to seven sticks of incense. We would normally wait until it was night time or when the incense sticks finished burning before removing the food from the altar. It was permitted to eat the food offerings when the ceremony was finished.

Vietnamese people have strong beliefs in community and family values. They believe that one should always love their family and never forget their culture. Just because a family member passes away does not mean that they are entirely gone. Their spirit should never be forgotten. Their name and life should still be celebrated as if they’re still earthbound.

First Person To Enter The House On New Years

In order to honor Lunar New Year, my mother reminded me to not be the first person to enter the house on the first day of celebration. In fact, no members of your immediate family should be the first person to enter the home or else it may bring a year of misfortune. My mother told me that it should be a person from your extended family to be the first one to enter your home for Lunar New Year. That way they can dispel any negative effects of being the first person to enter your home in the new year.

I recall a year when my older brother was the first person to enter our house during Lunar New Year. I do not remember that year being awfully unfortunate, so I’m a little skeptical about the powers of this rule.


Get Your Toes Wet, Poet

This is one of the few selective phrases that rising youth slam poets would holler at each other whenever a poet touched the stage to perform their written masterpiece. The informant recalls two distinct moments when he heard the phrase used. One is when he was a part of the audience watching a poet from Richmond walk up to the stage to begin her performance. A loud shout erupted from the observing crowd, “get your toes wet, poet!” The informant remembers how the face of the performer transformed from nervous to strong and confident in an instant. The other moment when the informant heard the phrase used is when he got up on stage to perform his own piece. The informant remembered how hearing the phrase helped lessen his stage fright and boost his confidence.

Those who have attended spoken word performances understand the terror of reciting a self-written poem in front of strangers. This form of expression is very personal on some levels, and to wear your emotions on your sleeve in front of people you do not know can be a frightening thing. The phrase “get your toes wet, poet” serves as an icebreaker for the performer and the audience. It reminds the poet that they should give it all they’ve got and not be afraid to speak their truths. It bridges a connection between the audience and the performers, reminding the poets that they are not only performers but also passionate individuals with a voice and mind just like the observers.

Turnt Up

The informant spoke about a word that describes the feeling of inebriation combined with the sensation of being intoxicated off of another substance. The phrase that the informant used was “turnt up”. The informant recalls the use of the word in mainstream hip-hop music, but she did not hear the phrase first used by another person until she attended a party during junior year in high school. An individual may use the phrase when they feel that they are in a state of altered consciousness induced by alcohol or other narcotics.

In a way, the phrase is a bit ironic because consuming a lot of alcohol and using narcotics will slow down the body’s processes, in the sense that it is hindering the natural rate at which the body performs. It would make more sense to say “turnt down” rather than “turnt up” since the substances actually make the individual feel like they are behaving and reacting at a slower pace.