For the last five years, New Year in the Park has made a home within the Roseway Neighborhood in Northeast Portland. During April, along 82nd Avenue, you’ll find cars parked along Siskiyou Street with crowds of people gathering at Glenhaven Park. But this isn’t a traffic jam or sporting event in the park. Instead, it’s one of the biggest Cambodian, Lao, Thai, and Burmese celebrations in Oregon!
New Year in the Park was founded in 2014 by Saron “Ron” Khut, owner of Mekong Bistro in Northeast Portland. When asked why he created New Year in the Park, Saron says “The Laotian and Cambodian community in Portland have always had great new year events but they were never together. There isn’t much Southeast Asian representation here and no one really knows who we are. This was one of the reasons why I was driven to start an event like this.”
Saron would frequently visit Long Beach, California to celebrate because the Cambodian community is significantly larger there. After years of visiting our neighboring state to the south, Saron wanted to bring that same energy to Portland. Saron recalls, “After so many years of going to California, I wanted to bring our cultural event here to Portland. Initially, I was only thinking about a Cambodian festival but since Laos and Thailand shared the same new year as Cambodia, I approached the Laotian community with the idea!” Engagement did not only come from Cambodian, Lao and Thai cultures, but also from Mien, Hmong and Burmese. This event quickly fostered relationships between many Southeast Asian cultures.
Aside from being the the original founder of New Year in the Park, Saron is also an active member of the planning committee, focusing on the logistical aspect of the festival. Saron graciously opens his restaurant as the central planning location for New Year in the Park meetings each month and is proud to see his committee members of different backgrounds, age groups, and ethnicities coming together.
When asked what motivates him to continue planning this day-long festival, he says his Cambodian culture is his motivation and preserving it is his goal. This year, Saron is excited to see all the beautiful clothes, arts and performances. “I can't wait to see all the smiles and taste all the delicious food while continuing to foster relationships with the community. I’m so proud of my New Year in the Park team and I hope more people will come join in on the celebration this year!”
Saron says he has high hopes for the near future that New Year in the Park will grow to be one of the city/state tourist attractions. “I see this festival as a destination for people from all over. The last Saturday of April will be a Portland main attraction.”
“New Year in the Park is a dream come true for me personally because we now have something for us all to be proud of. I can't believe that this will be our fifth year. What started as a dream is now a strong reality. I'm happy for our community and for our city. Sursdey Chnum Tmey! Sok Dee Pee Mai! Happy new year!”
If you’re looking for a family-friendly, culturally fun event in Portland, Saron says New Year in the Park is the event for you. Expect to enjoy a large variety of culturally-rich, fun and festive foods from local vendors, like Khao Niew and Talay Thai, traditional live performances from talented groups such as Thai Association and Cha Girls, beautiful arts, outfits and so much more!
New Year in the Park is going down on Saturday, April 27th 2019, from 9:30 AM - 6:00 PM. Please RSVP on our facebook page and be ready to have a great time! Check back in on our blog for an updated vendor list and to navigate day-of for our cultural event!