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Little  Saigon  and  Tropicana:  A  Tale  of
Two  Communities
                                                DENNIS DE LA FONG

Dear Council Members:

Late last year the Council did a wonderful thing. You decided to honor and recognize the contribution of the Vietnamese community to our City by naming a portion of Story Road as a Vietnamese business district. The Vietnamese immigrants indeed deserve to be recognized for their courage, sacrifice, resiliency and contribution to our City.

At the onset, you did another wonderful thing. You asked RDA to survey the local Vietnamese community for their input, asking them to suggest the name for their business district. Imagine, RDA doing a smart thing. I never thought I would be saying this, but RDA did it right this time. It asked for input from the people that their action would impact.

An overwhelming portion of the Vietnamese community that responded to the RDA survey wanted to name their business district “Little Saigon.” After all, the moniker is recognized across the nation as the representation and embodiment of their spirit and struggle to find a new home post the fall of Saigon. Even the Smithsonian Institute recognized that name as embodiment of this generation of Vietnamese. Why should they not have that right to call their business district just that, “Little Saigon?”. After all, did we not as a community wish to honor their spirit and their struggle?

Unfortunately, a well meaning action went astray in the November 20, 2007, vote. Instead of “Little Saigon,” the Council voted to name the district “Saigon Business District.” What ensued was another Tropicana, another maelstrom that sucked in the resource, time and energy of our City, when our City could least afford it.

Do we ever learn from our mistakes? After all, did we not elect new leaders after the Tropicana fiasco? Look at the parallels:

Why shouldn't Tropicana be owned by Latinos? So we condemn the property to take it from its Asian owners. Why should we let the Vietnamese name their own business district? If they want “Little Saigon,” we will stamped them with Saigon Business District.

The end justified the means, the Council violated the Brown Act in its June 2002, vote on the Tropicana DDA. The end justified the means, the Council violated, or gave a clear perception of having violated, the Brown Act in its vote to deny the Vietnamese community its first name choice, “Little Saigon.”

District 7 Councilman Terry Gregory was asked to resign.District 7 Councilwoman elected to replace Terry Gregory was asked to resign.

What have we learned since May 2001, when the Tropicana ordeal started in District 7 ? Do we still believe in the democracy and law that are the foundation of our nation ? Or, do we continue to act as a young woman named Marie Antoinette once told the hungry people of Paris who have no bread to eat, “Let them eat cake.”

Fortunately, there appears to be a divergence from the Tropicana script for the Little Saigon saga. Mayor Gonzales and his sidekicks would never consider a time out for Tropicana. It was war all the way, even if it would cost the City dearly. It was their pride and egos, but not their money. Let the tax payers pay. Finally, the court had to decide the fate of Tropicana, and the taxpayers and our community paid dearly.

Mayor Reed called for a time out vote on March 4 for the Little Saigon issue. Bravo, Mayor Reed. It is time for everyone to step back and calm down, to think about what was the real reason we started down this path. It was to honor the spirit, sacrifice and struggle of the Vietnamese citizens in San Jose, a city proud of its diversity, tolerance and rich multicultural tapestry.

Let us all step back, clear our heads of anger and pride. Let the leaders of the Vietnamese community work with us and each other to reach a compromise. Do not deny this hardworking community its due recognition. They deserve to have a business district named for their community.

Let us find a name that both sides can take pride in. Little Saigon Business District comes to my mind. After all, how much would it take to add a “Little” to the Saigon Business District and bring peace and honor a deserving segment of our City?

Along the way, it would certainly heal wounds if both sides would sign a letter of apology to each other. Please apologize to each other for the unnecessary name calling, threats and misrepresentations that both sides have managed to throw into the pot. Apologize, then work together to celebrate the new Little Saigon Business District.

Respectfully yours,
Dennis De La Fong

                                     © 2008 San Jose Voters for Democracy. All rights reserved. FPPC# 1302736. Phong Trào Cử Tri San Jose Đòi Dân Chủ.