Little Saigon

How the Vietnamese came to settle in Westminster, Calif. was a fluke. The lst wave to arrive in the U.S. came to nearby Camp Pendleton in ‘75, and most were dispersed through­out the country. But 20 families were left with no sponsors. What to do. Finally a man spoke up. He had some buildings in West­minst­er, where they could stay; and a nearby church would sponsor them.

The families set up a food store, then another store and another. That was ‘75, and in ‘77 I bought a house about 2 signals away. Little by little you’d see more Vietnamese. A few of their poor kids wore ill- fitting clothing, and some of the poor adults drove junky cars. At the grammar school across from me, there were gradually more little heads with black hair.

Asian kids seem uniquely cute – slender frames, bobbed, shinny hair, roundish, cute faces with almond eyes. They are very reserve. When you’re genuinly friendly and warm toward them, they look with a kid’s curiosity, but are very quiet.

I felt sorry for many kids and adults. They are smaller and some Americans resent them. but it’s gotten better. They are more accepted and more comfortable.

More have arrived from abroad and from different parts of the U.S.

There are l00,000 now; they have about l000 businesses in the area.

Little Saigon is often:

· no English among elders, but teens speaking English with no accent.

· take out food in a plastic bag with the top tied. When opened, it has … chopsticks … [made in … Korea].

· being served with chopsticks and no fork.

· seemingly most Vietnamese driving new cars.

· a new shopping center every few months.

· seeing property values go up in those areas.

· 50,000 shoppers on weekends

· Asian reserve & trimness

· seeing the library crowded with asian students.

· hearing some of the lst students at college used to carry a textbook under one arm and a dictionary under the other.

· hearing teachers love such diligence.

· reading the local grade point average has gone up.

· asian trinkets hanging from rear view mirrors

· seeing more Vietnamese working in fast food, auto parts, hardwar­e, banks, department stores, the library, and others.

· more Asian food in supermarkets

· small incense-burning Buddhist shrines to different gods in their stores. At night the stores will be pitch black except for the red glow from electric ‘candles’ on the shrine.

· being the only Caucasian in one of their shopping centers.

· tri-lingual menus.

Little Saigon is sometimes:

· women shading themselves with umbrellas.

· asians sitting on their haunches.

· someone carrying two loads on a pole across the shoulders.

· coming upon two paper saucers on a curb in the middle of the night – one of cookies and candies, the other of fruit with 3 sticks of incense burning – a Buddhist offering.

• asian tikes being let out of school before Thanksgiving dressed as pilgrims and Indians.

· meeting a 2 year old and his mother asking him to bow to me. He didn’t.

Success stories

· Some kids arrived in their early teens with no English and 5 years later, got into top col­leges.

· One woman in real estate made a million dollars in commissions in ‘88.

· One 58 yr. old has been on an assembly line for some years. She can’t read blueprints, and she can speak only 2 senten­ces: ‘You do it, I copy you’. She keeps up with the changes, is one of their best workers, started at $2.75/hr and by ‘88 was making $9.50. When everyone else was laid off, she was kept.

· Another woman worked as a manicurist in a shop. After 3 years she bought the shop.

· One boat person came here in ‘79 without speaking a word of English. Nine years later he earned his 7th degree from M.I.T.

· In one community, Vietnamese students were 20% of the high school and 50% of the valedictorians.


· the Confucian ethic of education, hard work, and family teamwork. [‘Family’ means family plus relatives.]

· having endured war, escape, pirates, refugee camp, and a new language and culture.

· being political refugees, which means a higher % of profes­sionals.

· Families arrive, live ‘crowded’ [by anglo standards], sometimes with very little furni­ture?, work several jobs, never eat out, never go to the movies, make their own clothes, buy a car, pool their money, & buy a house or start a business. The whole family works on it.

· They make their kids obey and study hard. They are to make their parents proud and to take care of them in later years.

· Working 40 hours a week is nothing. Kids and relatives work in their family’s store giving no thought to minimum wage, overtime, benefits, vacations, etc.

Other reasons [according to Dr. Vo]:

The Vietnamese had no welfare in Vietnam. They are starting from scratch. There is no national health insurance as their was back home. They are not sure their kids will take care of them, and they don’t understand social security.

They are patient, quick learners, and good with their hands. They enrich us.

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