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‘Our time to shine' Tacoma’s Lincoln District prepares to celebrate Lunar New Year

A small Vietnamese woman poses at the register in a hair salon decorated with red decorations and yellow flowers in honor of the Lunar New Year
Mayowa Aina
Oanh "Lee Lee" Lam poses in her hair salon, Lorinda's, on 38th Street in the Lincoln District in Tacoma, Wash., on Jan. 25, 2023. Lam has owned her salon for nearly 40 years and is a major advocate for the Lincoln District's international community.

Oanh Lam has watched the several blocks along S 38th Street in Tacoma, Wash. grow and change over nearly forty years.

“When I first started, it was mostly American businesses, but as we moved in Americans started moving out,” Lam said.

Over time, the Lincoln District has consolidated into a tight-knit community full of mostly Vietnamese establishments but also people from all over the world.

What people consider Tacoma's International District, doesn't look like what people may expect compared to Chinatowns or International Districts in other major cities. Some believe that's partly because of a dark history that includes forcibly removing Chinese and Japanese residents from the area. The Lincoln District fills that void.

“That’s why I stay,” Lam said. “I love my culture and I like it here so I want to build up my community.”

Part of building up that community is celebrating the many cultures present in the neighborhood with events, like the Lunar New Year celebration.

Lam, who is Vietnamese and affectionately known as “Lee Lee,” is sort of a godmother of the district. She advocates for the community and serves as vice president of the Lincoln District Business Association. Her hair salon acts as headquarters for the celebration this year with boxes of firecrackers stacked up waiting to be distributed and volunteers stopping by to learn when and where they’re needed.

“The younger generation won’t do it,” Lam said. “So, I want to show them how we do it and make sure they remember because we’ve been out of our country for so long.”

A younger generation is stepping up and beginning to take the reins, though.

For the past few years, All-Star Vintage business owners and Lincoln District Business Association members Richard and Deserie Sjouwke have helped plan the celebration, connecting businesses, and bringing in vendors and other community resources.

A man and woman pose next to each other inside a cajun seafood restaurant
Mayowa Aina
Minh Pham and Sina Kong, life partners and co-owners of Dragon's Crawfish on 38th Street in Tacoma's Lincoln District, stand together inside their restaurant on Jan. 25, 2023. They will be running specials during the Lunar New Year celebration this year.

And younger business owners are bringing their enthusiasm and memories to the event too. People like Sina Kong, who co-owns a Cajun seafood boil restaurant called Dragon’s Crawfish with her husband Minh Phan.

Kong, who is Cambodian, said Lunar New Year was something she saw celebrated as a kid and learned more about from her husband who is Vietnamese and the traditions his family shared.

“I was into it!” Kong said. “As a kid, I would always see everybody get red envelopes and I’m like ‘okay something’s very interesting here,’ so you want to learn more.”

Kong said the red envelopes represent good luck. They’re also a highly anticipated treat. Kevin Le and Thuy-Linh Nguyen, second-generation owners of Tacoma’s iconic Vien Dong restaurant said they were excited to hand out those red envelopes to children during the celebration.

A pair of spouses stand next to each other under a Lunar New Year decoration inside a restaurant that reads "Chuc Mung Nam Moi"
Mayowa Aina
Kevin Le (center right), and his wife Linh Nguyen (far right) stand with Nguyen's parents inside the iconic Vietnamese restaurant Vien Dong on 38th Street in Tacoma on Jan. 25, 2023. Le and Nguyen are second-generation business owners, having taken over running the restaurant from Nguyen's parents.

“It’s just like Christmas,” Le said. “The most special thing is the family. We’re so busy with our schedule but this holiday is all about family.”

And it draws people in from all over the region. Nguyen said friends and family from places like Redmond and Bellevue will come down to join the fun.

Why Vien Dong's owners love for Lunar New Year

“Every year they always compliment this small tiny community, it’s so tight,” Nguyen said. “They don’t have anything like that. So, I’m very excited to serve sandwiches and coffee to everybody!”

For Le, the best way to describe this celebration is: “joy.”

“This is our time to shine, on 38th Street,” he said.

That anticipated joy was shaken recently though, Le said, when he heard about the shooting that happened near Los Angeles last weekend at a Lunar New Year celebration - 20 people were either injured or killed.

“It’s just a tragedy and I hope that in Tacoma everything will be safe,” Le said. “We’ve been very blessed in this community, they’ve been so supportive of our family and we’re so grateful for them so I’m happy to be here.”

Tacoma’s Lunar New Year celebration will also feature vendors and community resources, including counseling services. Deserie Sjouwke of All-Star Vintage said it’s especially needed right now after what happened in LA.

“It was heartbreaking, my first phone call was to Lee Lee to see if she was okay, just to reach out and connect to our community,” Sjouwke said. “But no, we never thought about not doing it. It's a perfect time to show unity, compassion and love.”

And to celebrate - with firecrackers, lion dancers, drumming, special foods, and tradition.

The district’s celebration begins with an opening ceremony at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Jan. 28.

Mayowa Aina covers cost-of-living and affordability issues in Western Washington. She focuses on how people do (or don't) make ends meet, impacts on residents' earning potential and proposed solutions for supporting people living at the margins of our community. Get in touch with her by emailing