|Asian Garden Mall (1987), 9200 Bolsa Ave., Westminster|
The Orange County Archives has assembled a display entitled, “Orange County’s Little Saigon: Evolution of a Community,” located in the first floor lobby of the Old Orange County Courthouse, 211 W. Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana. (Open Mon-Fri.) It should be up through the end of the year.
|"This area along Bolsa was the most economically deprived area in Westminster,” said former mayor Joy Neugebauer. “Within a few years of Vietnamese arriving it became our highest value area, and it remains so today."|
The “before” map highlights small communities like Bolsa and Silver Acres, landmarks like the Zenith Aircraft Corp and Post Bros. tractor shop, and everyday roadside scenes. The current map highlights key businesses, temples and other institutions that played a significant role in the development and growth of Little Saigon since the end of the Vietnam War.
|A CIA agent helps evacuees into a helicopter on a Saigon rooftop, hours before the city fell to North Vietnamese troops.|
Although a small number of Vietnamese arrived while the war was still ongoing, the vast majority arrived afterward. The first big wave of refugees arrived immediately after Black April. Many more – held up in foreign refugee camps, escaping on small boats, or waiting for other opportunities to flee Vietnam – came in later waves.
“In Saigon,” the saying went, “even the lamppost wants to go to America.”
|Refugees at temporary housing facility at Camp Pendleton, May 1, 1975.|
Orange County families and religious organizations sponsored about 75% of the Vietnamese who came through Camp Pendleton, giving them their first taste of everyday life in Southern California.
|Today, our first Vietnam-town is “graced” with an unconvincing statue of President Obama outside a Mexican nightclub.|
Apartment complexes in Garden Grove near the refugee center at St. Anselm Episcopal Church became one of the first identifiable clusters of Vietnamese residents in Orange County. It was well north of what became Little Saigon.
|The Vietnam War Memorial (2003) at Sid Goldstein Park in Westminster was designed by sculptor Tuan Nguyen.|
Among the early businessmen who developed much of Little Saigon’s commercial core was Frank Jao, who created such landmarks as Far East Plaza, Asian Village Center, Bolsa Mini Mall and the iconic Asian Garden Mall. Others included Dr. Co D. Pham, Tony Lam, and Danh Quách. There were thirty Vietnamese-owned businesses in Orange County in 1979. There were 350 by 1981 and about 750 by 1988.
|1980s strip malls like this one typify much of Little Saigon’s commercial district.|
But Little Saigon proved to be a vital part of Orange County, driven by a people who value family, education, hard work and freedom. In very little time, the Vietnamese – many of whom arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs – have joined the ranks of Orange County’s teachers, entrepreneurs, business leaders, elected officials, doctors and more.
The Communists may have erased the name Saigon from maps of Vietnam, but both the name and the spirit of a free and determined people are alive and well in sunny Orange County.