A Community Cornerstone Highlighted by CEO Norman Ebenstein
After the Vietnam War ended in 1975, over 150,000 Vietnamese people fled their war torn country, hoping for a better life elsewhere. Many died trying to escape the aftermath of the war on boats or encountered pirates in the waters that surround the coastal country.
Vietnamese Americans are the 4th largest Asian American group in the United States, which is now over 3 million. Over half of the Vietnamese immigrants that came here settled in Texas and California. Others settled along the east coast of the United States, bringing their culture, their food, and their history to those around them. Below are some of highlighted places and events:
Orlando, Florida: Colonialtown
In the Colonialtown section of Orlando, Florida, there is a thriving Vietnamese quarter known as “Little Saigon.” The thriving neighborhood has become a hallmark in Orlando, with a rising number of restaurants, shops, and Vietnamese professional offices that provide everything from taxes to medical and dental treatment to the local Vietnamese community.
Karaoke bars, bubble tea shops, Vietnamese video and music shops, and stores selling candies and collectibles from all across Asia are among the stores that provide Asian pop culture to the population. The intersection of East Colonial Drive/HWY50 and Mills Ave, often known as the “Vi-Mi” district, is the district’s heart.
After the fall of Saigon, war refugees seeking a fresh life in America founded the Orlando Vietnamese community. Orlando is home to well-known pro-democracy activists like Thuong Nguyen Foshee, who was arrested in Vietnam and held for fourteen months without any formal charges, as highlighted in the news here. She was ultimately accused of planning to broadcast anti-communist radio messages. She was found guilty; her 14 months were considered time served and she was released a month later.
Philadelphia, PA: Passyunk Square
A veritable Little Saigon has emerged in South Philly’s Passyunk Square district, complete with strip mall groceries, restaurants, and cafés. However, the Vietnamese accents in Philadelphia are far more mild. If you look closely, you’ll note that parts of New World and Wing Phat Plaza have second storeys, as well as sliding doors and balconies—all of which are unusual characteristics in a suburban strip mall.
When you enter Wing Phat Plaza, you’ll notice that the stores are all connected and accessible via inside corridors. This is partly due to the Vietnamese population wanting its identity and culture to be separate from the nearby Chinatown neighborhood.
New York, NY: Little Saigon
New York is known for its diverse population. With approximately 13 thousand Vietnamese residents, Little Saigon is located near Bowery and Grand Street. Here too, the Vietnamese have carved out a neighborhood separated from the larger Chinatown.
Other large populations of Vietnamese residents reside in the Bronx and other boroughs as well. In Little Saigon you will see bright lights, fresh food markets, restaurants, community artwork, and architectural nods to the Asian community that thrives there.
It is no surprise that Washington DC and the surrounding municipalities are home to robust Vietnamese communities. Many settled near Washington D.C. due to the close proximity of the US Government buildings and Embassies. Noticeable attractions are the Vietnam Memorial, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, VietFest, and the Lunar New Year Festival. The nearby cities of Fall’s Church and Arlington host the Capital area’s largest communities and offer exciting cultural respites.
Fall’s Church, VA
Eden Center’s Clock Tower in Fall’s Church, Virginia is an obvious nod to the Vietnamese population that has come to call the area home. The tower is an exact replica of a market in downtown Saigon. The ornate Lion Arch located at the Wilson Boulevard entrance beckons shoppers into the plaza, owned by Capital Commercial Properties CEO Norman Ebenstein, while honoring the Vietnamese and other Asian people that live and work in the surrounding area.
Stepping away from Eden Center, many of the streets surrounding the area, also known as Little Saigon, are named after prominent South Vietnamese Generals, such as Major General Nguyễn Khoa Nam. He performed military operations to keep the Viet-Cong out of areas within the Mekong Delta.
Arlington, VA.: Little Saigon
Not far from Fall’s Church and Washington DC, Arlington’s Little Saigon resides in the Clarendon neighborhood. Taking advantage of low commercial rent in the early 1970’s, newly arrived Vietnamese immigrants flocked to the area to open businesses. The area hosts popular annual festivals like the Moon Festival. Here you can find shops spilling onto the sidewalks in pure market fashion, offering fresh food and wares to passersby. Much is currently being done to preserve the Clarendon neighborhood and its cultural significance to its residents and patrons.
Atlanta, GA: South Atlanta/Jonesboro
Many do not realize the large Vietnamese community residing in Atlanta. Entire stretches along Jonesboro Road in Clayton County advertise Vietnamese food and shops. On Sunday afternoons the Vietnamese Elders Association of South Atlanta hosts music, food, and fellowship to seniors in their area, often inviting friends and neighbors to partake. The area is also home to several Vietnamese Buddhist Temples (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Buddhist_temples_in_Vietnam) that are a delight to see. Thien Vien Minh Dang Quang houses beautiful statues and ornate woodworking in its gardens.
Orlando, FL: Mills 50 District
Away from the hustle and bustle of what is arguably the theme park capital of the United States, Orlando’s Mills 50 District offers a bevy of brightly colored Vietnamese eateries, shops, and commerce. Part of Orlando’s Main Street Program, electric boxes and murals are painted by local artists to reflect the Asian communities that populate the area. More artwork is scheduled to be placed around the neighborhood as a continued effort to honor one of the oldest Asian Communities in the East.
The Vietnamese immigrants have brought not just great food and cool architecture, but a sense of community, nodding back to their home country they left behind so many years ago. These cultural hubs remind them of where they came from, how they have persevered, and how they thrive. These neighborhoods give their children a chance to experience some of the cultural aspects of their heritage. Next time you’re in the area, stop by for some Pho, attend a festival, or check out the sights in your local Little Saigon.