Note to repeat visitors to this post -- I've started a new post called "Solving San Jose's Little Saigon Controversy" in hopes of getting some solutions to the bickering and intrigue that have created this impasse. We have great ideas and have amassed lots of knowledge, so let's put to good use!
If you've had your ears to the ground in the Vietnamese-American community in the last few months, you've probably heard about how San Jose is struggling to come up with a moniker for a strip of Story Road near the intersection with McLaughlin. That corridor of Story is in the southern part of the city where there's a concentration of Vietnamese businesses. At the heart of the matter is what to name the area: "Little Saigon" or "Saigon Business District."
The area (District 7) is represented on the San Jose City Council by Madison Nguyen, the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to office in California. Madison supported and voted for Saigon Business District, which was also the City Council's choice.
However, a small but very vocal group of Vietnamese Americans wants the name "Little Saigon" and have been showing up on Tuesdays at City Hall to protest and demand that Madison resign or face a recall election. Initially, they hit her low by accusing her of being connected to communist Vietnam. Then they said that she voted in an undemocratic way because her vote did not represent the will of the Vietnamese community. Now they're calling her a liar.
The arguments from each side are:
- "Little Saigon" properly acknowledges the former capital of South Vietnam and is a stab to the heart of the post-1975 communist regime.
- "Saigon Business District" honors the former capital and avoids a politically charged name.
I'm not a San Jose resident but rather, live nearby and read the San Jose Mercury News paper, which has diligently reported on the story from the beginning. Here's how I weigh in on this issue:
The area in question is puny, though there is a construction project underway for a large shopping plaza, there isn't much there there. The strip of Story Road that's on the table neglects the area at Tully and South King, which is a 5-minute drive away and loaded with eateries and shops. What about those businesses?
It's not all Viet all the time at Story Road. Turn your head ever so lightly and you'll see a taqueria, tamale shop, and Thai-Vietnamese-Chinese market.
Little Saigon? I grew up in Orange County, where the first and biggest "Little Saigon" is and frankly, have always disliked the name. The 405 Freeway sign near the exit often make me feel uncomfortable. Moreover, inside the O.C. Viet community, the area is called it "Bolsa" after the main drag, where it is indeed, all Viet, all the time.
Saigon was never and is not little. For me, the name "Little Saigon" is pejorative and denotes something that's quaint, small, and not particularly powerful. Vietnam has a rich and long history of having kicked plenty of ass. Yes, we're relatively small in geographic size and population, but we've historically been major players. Remember the geopolitics over the Vietnam War? At one point in Vietnam's history, it was called Dai Viet, which means great Viet. Little Saigon? Please…
Northern vs. Southern California? Is there a bit of competition between San Jose and Westminster? In Westminster, when you turn the corner at Brookhurst and drive down Bolsa, you know you're in an unusual place. The signage is Vietnamese and there is a seemingly endless supply of strip malls full of Vietnamese business - from markets, to restaurants, bakeries, delis, accountants, pharmacies, fabric shops, travel agents, dentists, etc. It's vibrant and pulsating with action.
San Jose's Vietnamese community developed in a much more low-key manner because things are generally more mainstreamed in Northern California. There are more Viet restaurants outside of the Story Road area than in it because people up here are open to mixing and commingling. That's just starting to happen in the O.C., where the community has been insular for the most part.
What I'm saying is don't copy the O.C., but do something that's new, different, and reflective of the community, which has grown and developed differently than that in Southern California.
You can't always get what you want in a democracy. Just because Madison Nguyen didn't vote the way a group of Vietnamese Americans wanted does not mean that she acted undemocratically. In fact, District 7 is full of Latino residents too.
If Madison were to be run out of office, there's no assurance that another Vietnamese-American will be elected to represent that district on the city council. Replacing her is not going to do anything. Coming up with a better, more suitable name would be a better place to start. If one of the names can deliver consistently good restaurants and clean markets, I'll be all for it!
Weigh in yourself on this matter. You don't have to be Viet to have an opinion!
For more information:
- [3/9/08] Solving San Jose's Little Saigon Controversy is a new thread I started because this one was getting really long. Also, we need solutions to end the bickering.
- 8Asians.com blog has a detailed comment thread on this political saga
- 1/15/08 Madison Nguyen's political trajectory and potential downfall: The Rise, Troubles of Madison Nguyen [Again, the SJ Mercury is doing an unscientific online poll of whether or not she should resign. Reader/community comments are quite insightful.]
- 1/8/08 story from SJ Mercury News: "An Ultimatum for Madison Nguyen" [Note, you can vote on whether she should be recalled and leave a comment)
- 12/03/07 SJ Mercury News editorial on recalling Madison Nguyen