Vietnamese district falls flat
Article Launched: 11/15/2007 10:34:01 AM PST
Nguyen's proposal for San Jose
Hundreds of chanting protesters swarmed to San Jose City Hall this morning as Councilwoman Madison Nguyen unveiled a compromise she hoped would quell the fury over what to call a new Vietnamese business district in central San Jose.
Nguyen, the first Vietnamese American woman elected to office in California, unwittingly stepped into a political minefield earlier this year with a proposal to designate a stretch of Story Road in East San Jose "Vietnamese Business District."
Local Vietnamese American activists demanded instead that the area be called "Little Saigon," a bow to the former capitol of South Vietnam before that country fell to Communist forces in 1975. Nguyen, along with business owners in the area, worried that the name was a politicized relic from the past - and besides, there are already Little Saigons in other cities.
With activists promising to boycott businesses in the area and threatening to recall council members who didn't vote for "Little Saigon," Nguyen worked feverishly in recent days to craft a compromise. Flanked by San Jose's mayor and vice mayor, she stepped to a microphone in the city hall plaza this morning and announced her solution: "Saigon Business District."
The crowd was silent. Then the chants began anew: "Little Saigon! Little Saigon!"
Mayor Chuck Reed, who has worked hard to court the city's 100,000-strong Vietnamese American community, tried to appease the crowd, noting they were still free to call the area whatever they want.
But the city's redevelopment agency has already allocated $100,000 for signs with the new name. The council is set to vote Tuesday on the new name.
Just what to call the Vietnamese retail area has exploded into a divisive nationwide controversy - and jeopardized Nguyen's political future. Letters from as far away as Minnesota, Missouri and Pennsylvania have poured into the mayor's office.
The furor over the name has become an unexpected emblem of the deep divisions within the Vietnamese community throughout the country. The debate is laced with rhetoric that has historically plagued Vietnamese-American politics - accusations that people are either radical anti-communists or passive communist sympathizers.
To many people, "Little Saigon" symbolizes freedom from communist control. But others say San Jose needs its own identity; many of the Vietnamese merchants in the area, along with some of the Latino residents who live nearby, proposed the name "New Saigon."
Little Saigon supporters have blasted that proposal, however, saying that's the name of a shopping mall in Communist Vietnam.