In Little Saigon, new street signs will pay tribute to fallen capital

In Little Saigon, new street signs will pay tribute to fallen capital
Thich Nhu Quang wears a traditional Vietnamese hat while selling red and gold holiday ornaments at the Asian Garden Mall in Westminster. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The smell of jackfruit hangs in the air and shoppers crowd the bright flower stalls that seem to blossom along the streets of Little Saigon in the final days before the Lunar New Year.

But there's a new buzz in the immigrant community this season.


At the direction of the city's first Vietnamese American mayor, some of the lime-green street signs in the heart of Little Saigon are being replaced with new ones that will read simply "Saigon," a tribute to the fallen capital that many here fled four decades ago.

The ethnic district that grew in Westminster, and later spread to surrounding cities, is the capital for overseas Vietnamese, and residents said the signs will underscore their efforts to re-create what they lost when the war in Vietnam ended. After communist forces claimed power, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City.

But Mayor Tri Ta said both the memory and spirit of the onetime capital of South Vietnam live on in his central Orange County city.

"I am so happy — and so proud," says Hoang Vo, a former Boeing assembly line worker, browsing for trinkets in a stall decorated with silk lanterns. "This place has turned into a new homeland for those living overseas."

The new street signs will be erected in the coming days at the Asian Garden Mall and the Cultural Court shopping center, as the community prepares for the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. For many Vietnamese Americans, April 30 remains a somber date, observed but not celebrated.

But with Tet ceremonies scheduled this week, Little Saigon is in a festive mood. Shoppers scoop up armloads of scarlet orchids from the open-air flower markets and workers unload cartons of papaya and grapefruit. Vendors hawk bamboo pillows, lottery games and painted porcelain cats with swinging arms, next to a booth decked out with "Guardian Buddha" beads.

Thanh Huyen, a vendor selling red envelopes that will be filled with "lucky" money and exchanged among friends and business associates, said the new street signs would add to Little Saigon's community pride.

"You know, we now have a Vietnamese senator, we have council members who are Vietnamese," she added. "We also have Vietnamese mayors and a supervisor who is Vietnamese. The Vietnamese name for a street is inevitable."

Xuan Nguyen, a New Jersey resident visiting Orange County with her children and partner, said the signs would be a welcome addition to a community that attracts Vietnamese visitors from around the world.

"It really identifies this as a Vietnamese area," she said.

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