On April 30th, 1975, the Fall of Saigon occurred and left more than 1.6 million Vietnamese immigrants, to be resettled around the world. Vietnamese immigrants fled in two distinct waves. The first wave of immigrants left in 1975, directly after the Fall of Saigon. This wave of immigrants was mainly made up of the elite and highly educated.
(continued) Many had ties to the United States after working with or supporting the South Vietnam regime. The second wave occurred throughout the mid-70s and into the early 90s. This wave of immigrants became the majority of refugees that we now commonly known as the “boat people”. Most of these immigrants lived in poverty and were less educated, compared to their previous immigrant counterparts.
After settling around the world, many Vietnamese immigrants were able to establish ethnic enclaves to empower their community, keep Vietnamese culture alive, and create opportunities for profit. These ethnic enclaves, commonly named “Little Saigon”, is a hub for restaurants, grocery stores, and small businesses that allowed the Vietnamese community to keep their tradition and culture while expanding to a new American environment. Little Saigon has been an integral part of many immigrant Vietnamese Americans’ lives, and continue to create the same for future generations of Vietnamese Americans. Some of the most notable Little Saigons around America are located in: Orange County, San Jose, Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, and Arlington.
The oldest and largest Little Saigon can be found in Westminster, located in Orange County, California. The main focus of Little Saigon is the Bolsa Avenue Center, which boasts a very impressive Asian Garden Mall and a Little Saigon Plaza. This street was so influential, that in the late 1980s, the City Council of Westminster officially designated Bolsa Avenue as “Little Saigon”. Quickly, Little Saigon expanded from one street to a large neighborhood encompassing several suburban strip malls. Within this Little Saigon, there are over 200 restaurants, supermarkets, delis, and more. The First Vietnamese American Bank is the first to serve co-ethnic clientele in the United States and is located within Westminster. Additionally, Westminster is also home to the Saigon National Bank – the first nationally chartered bank organized and owned by Vietnamese Americans. When it comes to the entertainment industry, Westminster is home to several Vietnamese language TV stations, radio stations, and newspapers/magazines. Additionally, the music industry is also extremely popular, as there are several recording studios in Westminster, some larger than the studios in Vietnam.
This shows that Little Saigon in Westminster, being the oldest and largest, is one of the most influential communities for Vietnamese Americans, a location that generates a large variety of influx in everything from food, music, and business. Although building Little Saigon has displayed the pride of Vietnamese Americans, there have also been plenty of hurdles Vietnamese Americans building Little Saigon have dealt with. The Anti-Ho Chi Minh Protest occurred in 1999 in Westminster. The controversy started with Vietnamese American video store owner Truong Van Tran, who displayed a portrait of Ho Chi Minh within his store. This resulted in mass vigils, crowds of people waving the South Vietnam flag, and creating riots in front of the store. Since then, the video store has ceased to exist, but at the same time, it raised some debate about free speech in the United States.
San Jose, California holds the largest Little Saigon within Northern California. Additionally, San Jose is home to over 180,000 Vietnamese American Residents (10.6% of their overall city population) This also means that San Jose has more Vietnamese residents than any single city, outside of Vietnam. San Jose’s Little Saigon stretches through Tully Road and Senter Road. Additionally, the main part of Little Saigon is on Story Road, and located there is the popular Grand Century Mall and Vietnam Town and is officially designated by the San Jose City Council as "Little Saigon".
Similar to Westminster, San Jose’s Little Saigon also has a large entertainment industry. There are several locally produced Vietnamese Language radio and TV stations, such as Que Hong Media, VienThao, and Vietoday TV. Additionally, what makes San Jose’s Little Saigon special is that it holds the influence of both the older generation and the new millennial generation. This is clear when it comes to strolling through Grand Century Mall and Vietnam Town. There are plenty of traditional restaurants that have been there since the ’80s, but next door there are also newer shops that show today’s trends and tastes. These two generations are able to live side by side without creating tension, but instead creates an environment where the businesses can mutually grow.
There are several unofficial Little Saigons in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, though is considered one of the largest Vietnamese communities in the United States. One of the largest of these Little Saigon is located in Garland, along Walnut Street between Audelia Road and Jupiter Road, where there are four large supermarkets and a number of restaurants. In Garland, there is a Cali Saigon Mall, which originally operates from California and Nevada. The supermarket expanded to Texas with its first store in Garland, boasting an all Asian food court. Additionally, there are two other Little Saigons in Arlington, on Pioneer Parkway, and in Irving on Beltline Road. The Little Saigon in Irving is home to Little Saigon Mall, and the area itself infuses Korean, Japanese, Thai, and other cultures.
One of the largest Vietnamese neighborhoods in Philadelphia is located in Passyunk Square. The heart of Little Saigon is centered on the intersection of Eighth Street and Washington Avenue in South Philly. Starting from the 1990s, the Vietnamese community built a plaza, called Hoa Binh Plaza, and later added Wing Phat Plaza, but were both quickly downsized in 1998 with the construction of the New World Plaza and 1st Oriental Market. Aside from Passyunk Square, Southwest Philadelphia and Northeast Philadelphia also contain Vietnamese American neighborhoods. Similar to Little Saigon, there is a Baby Saigon located within in Whitman neighborhood of South Philadelphia. Additionally, the Vietnamese community has additionally expanded eastward across the Delaware River to Camden and Cherry Hill in New Jersey. As of 2005, Vietnamese are projected to become the largest ethnicity in South Philadelphia. Philadelphia is in the top ten cities with Vietnamese populations and Vietnamese immigration destinations. As of 2017, there are over 16,000 Vietnamese Americans living in Philadelphia, making it one of the cities with the largest Vietnamese population on the East Coast. The Asian population has grown by 277% between 1990 and 2010, allowing enclaves such as Little Saigon to gradually expand.
Lastly, Arlington, Virginia is home to one of the biggest Little Saigons in the East Coast. Arlington, right by Washington D.C., is influential in the story of the Vietnamese immigration in 1975. The large influx of Vietnamese immigrants arrives in America through the first wave of immigration, directly after the Fall of Saigon. Many of these immigrants were elite and highly educated, as well as holding ties with the American government. Thus, many settled in Washington D.C. because of the embassy and government, where they could retain their jobs while settling in a new American home. The first Vietnamese business in Arlington was the Saigon Market grocery store, opened in 1972 by a former employee of the Vietnam embassy. The second business that opened was a Vietnam Center, opened by the Vietnamese wife of a CIA employee. At the same time, many Vietnamese entrepreneurs still faced hurdles and obstacles when it came to financial stability. Banks refused to lend money to Vietnamese immigrants, and many had to borrow from their friends and families to start the businesses. Furthermore, many were fined because they did not understand business licensing and regulations.
Overall, Little Saigons in America have provided a safe sanctuary for Vietnamese immigrants and the generations that follow. Through Little Saigon, Vietnamese Americans are able to preserve the culture and traditions familiar to them prior to immigrating. At the same time, the pride of the Vietnamese Americans have motivated the community to come together, and welcome the ideas of newer generations as well as other cultures. By doing so, Little Saigon has the ability to function as a business center, rather than the bustling commotion that a tourist-filled Chinatown might hold. Little Saigons around America has been influential and essential for many Vietnamese American families finding a home away from home.