Little Saigon is A Big Deal
Nguyen Hoang Lan (Source:
JOSE - If Vietnamese were as adaptive and reflective of pop culture
as English is, this past week “Madison Nguyen” might have become a new
Vietnamese idiom meaning to be betrayed by someone who you supported
Vietnamese Americans in San Jose and around the United States are outraged
at San Jose City Councilmember Nguyen, a Vietnamese American herself,
for leading the charge to designate a strip of Story Road as “Saigon
Business District” against the wishes of most Vietnamese Americans,
who want the area to be known as “Little Saigon”.
The matter was settled last week when San Jose City Council voted 8
to 3 in favor of Saigon Business District, but the fallout from the
decision has changed the political status quo of San Jose . Nguyen has
lost her support among Vietnamese Americans while they, for all their
efforts, have been perceived as unreasonable, fanatical, and as one
councilmember put it, “disrespectful.”
But most frustrating to followers of this controversy is the fact that
nobody seems to understand why there is a controversy in the first place.
Supporters of Saigon Business District feel the name honors the fallen
capitol of the former Republic of South Vietnam and cannot understand
why the Vietnamese community would take issue with this name. Meanwhile
Vietnamese Americans have good reasons for insisting the area be called
Little Saigon, but have failed to successfully articulate those reasons
What then, is the big deal about Little Saigon? To understand this,
one must first understand the nature of Vietnamese American politics.
The Vietnamese community came to America in waves following the fall
of Sai Gon on April 30, 1975. They did not come in pursuit of the American
Dream, but as political refugees fleeing from the totalitarian regime
that is the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). Thirty-two years later,
anti-communist sentiment still runs strong in the Vietnamese American
community and the desire to see a freeand democratic Viet Nam eclipses
all others. This essentially means ending the one-party rule of the
VCP or at the very least, obstructing the VCP in its attempt to trick
the world community by passing off superficial changes as the gradual
start of deeper democratic reforms.
The task is a massive one, and at times those Vietnamese Americans who
were boat people feel that they are Viet Nam “last best hope” a dying
breed with no heirs to carry on their fight. While the younger generation
of Vietnamese Americans shares with elders a general concern regarding
human rights, democracy, and freedom in Viet Nam, they are not as invested
in the cause. The language barrier and lack of experience with the VCP
make younger Vietnamese Americans unable to connect with their elders.
The Vietnamese American youth of today, mart and idealistic, but unfamiliar
with Vietnamese history and culture, often are disillusioned as it seems
their every effort to help Viet Nam is met with criticism by their elders.
The elders in turn are horrified to see the youth organize philanthropic
missions to Viet Nam as such well-meaning missions accomplish the work
of the Vietnamese government and allow the VCP to take credit when in
truth the government is underserving the Vietnamese people.
is compounded by the fact that the international community has become
increasingly supportive of the Vietnamese government these past few
years, despite its oppressive ways. Most recently, the U.S. granted
Permanent Normal Trade Relations to Viet Nam, supported Viet Nam’s entry
into the WTO and invited Viet Nam’s President Nguyen Minh Triet to meet
with President Bush in the White House. Despite heavy rhetoric decrying
human rights abuses in Viet Nam , the U.S. seems willing to tolerate
one-party nations such as Viet Nam so long as U.S. companies have access
to their frontier markets.
Most devastating for Vietnamese Americans working to free Viet Nam ,
however, is that the VCP has announced a policy to marginalize anti-communist
sentiment. In March 2004, Viet Nam’s Foreign Ministry unveiled Resolution
36, which deals solely with Viet Nam’s relations toward its overseas
brethren. The resolution outlines detailed plans to woo the post-war
generation of Vietnamese living overseas to apply their foreign educations
to solving Viet Nam’s problems. Additionally, the resolution makes it
a priority to win the hearts and minds of the overseas Vietnamese community,
a potential resource to the VCP, as they are now in positions of wealth
Not able to entrust Viet Nam’s freedom to the international community
or to the next generation, and faced with an active campaign by the
VCP to convince the world that Viet Nam is changing for the better,
Vietnamese Americans who came to the U.S. as boat people want to ensure
that their opposition to the VCP continues beyond their lifetime.
way to do this is to permanently entrench overseas Vietnamese areas
as anti-communist outposts and to distinguish the overseas Vietnamese
community as in opposition to and unsupportive of the VCP. This will
embarrass the VCP and remind nations that do business with Viet Nam
that their own citizens of Vietnamese decent frown upon and will not
vote for people who are sympathetic to the Vietnamese government.
This is the spirit behind the nationwide campaign to lobby local and
state governments to recognize the yellow flag of South Viet Nam as
the modern day Vietnamese Freedom and Heritage flag, the official symbol
of freedom-loving Vietnamese Americans. It is also why the name Little
Saigon is so important. While names like Viet Nam , Sai Gon, or New
Saigon can be interpreted in a beneficial way by the VCP’s propaganda
machine, Little Saigon is a long established brand-name that invokes
powerful images of opposition to the VCP, yellow flags with three red
strips, and the Tran Truong protests of 1999.
To casual observers, it may seem odd to link the name of a designated
area in San Jose to the ongoing struggle for freedom and democracy in
Viet Nam . But in the eyes of Vietnamese Americans, every action has
an implicit meaning, and by choosing Saigon Business District over Little
Saigon, the San Jose City Council has unwittingly aided the VCP in its
quest to marginalize anti-communist sentiment.