Little Saigon Enclaves: Background information when reading The Refugees

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The Refugees

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen X
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2017, 224 pages
    Jan 2018, 224 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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Little Saigon Enclaves

This article relates to The Refugees

Print Review

The name "Little Saigon" is often given to an area where there are a large number of people of Vietnamese origin. When The Refugees author Viet Thanh Nguyen arrived in the United States in the mid '70s at the age of four, he lived in a refugee camp and then with a couple of sponsor families in Pennsylvania before being reunited with his own family. For much of his childhood his family lived in San Jose, California, where his parents owned an ethnic grocery store. San Jose and Orange County, California are the largest and oldest Vietnamese communities in the United States, along with Houston, Texas.

Little Saigon Sign in California Orange County is home to an estimated 189,000 Vietnamese-Americans. The city of Garden Grove in Orange County hosts Tết, the annual Vietnamese Lunar New Year festival in late January/early February. Westminster has a number of Vietnamese television and radio stations, and is also the headquarters of a small Vietnamese pop music scene.

San Jose is over 10% Vietnamese-American and has the most Vietnamese residents of any city outside of Vietnam. There has been resistance to the name "Little Saigon," though. For a short time in 2007–8, a City Council vote changed it to "Saigon Business District," but less than six months later, the decision was overturned; the area has not been officially renamed. Two popular Vietnamese restaurant chains, Lee's Sandwiches and Pho Hoa, got their start here. The Viet Museum at History Park (also known as the Museum of the Boat People and the Republic of Vietnam) opened in 2007 after 30 years in the pipeline. Funded by the San Jose nonprofit Immigrant Resettlement & Cultural Center, Inc., the museum is dedicated to the Vietnamese-American experience and to Vietnamese people's different journeys to America.

California also has a high concentration of Vietnamese-Americans in Oakland, San Diego, Sacramento, San Francisco, and the San Gabriel Valley. Other U.S. cities with a notable Vietnamese presence include Falls Church, Virginia; Orlando; New Orleans; Atlanta; Oklahoma City; Dallas–Fort Worth, Texas; Denver; and Seattle. Further afield, Victoria Street in the Melbourne, Australia suburb of Richmond has been dubbed "Little Saigon."

The video below gives a tour of "Little Saigon" in San Jose on the special occasion of Tết, including a peek at the Grand Century Mall, which houses dozens of Vietnamese stores:

Picture of Little Saigon sign by Codobai

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Rebecca Foster

This article relates to The Refugees. It first ran in the March 22, 2017 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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