Little Saigon at a Crossroads -- With Move to Rename Street

Times Staff Writer

The industrial street that zigzags through the heart of Orange County's Vietnamese community is named after a farmer whose fields eventually made way for the tract homes and commercial districts that dot Westminster.

Now, some would like to rename a stretch of that street for the now-ailing publisher of the first daily newspaper to serve the town's Vietnamese community. It would be the first street to carry a Vietnamese name in Little Saigon, the bustling enclave that is home to the nation's largest Vietnamese population.

The suggestion to change Moran Street to Yen Do Street has drawn a mixed response.

City leaders in Westminster, a middle-class town that changed dramatically with the arrival of Vietnamese refugees in the late 1970s, aren't sure it would be right to erase the name of a town pioneer.

Those in the Vietnamese community say it's time a city street sign carry a Vietnamese name. It's just that they're not certain Do should be the first person so honored.

And Vietnamese journalists are upset that a road that's become the Vietnamese equivalent of Fleet Street -- the historic newspaper row in London -- would be named after a competitor. A handful of Vietnamese newspapers and other media outlets are on Moran.

"On one hand, I support it because he is highly respected and any Vietnamese name would be better than no Vietnamese name at all," said Nina Le, general manager of Viet Bao Daily News, which has the second-largest circulation among Vietnamese dailies in Little Saigon. Do's paper, Nguoi Viet Daily News, has the largest.

"On the other hand, what would you think if your address is [named after] a competitor?" said Le. "It would not be advantageous to us."

Beyond the debate on whether Do merits such an honor, the proposal has raised the question of why a town best known for its Vietnamese community has never chosen to reflect that in its street names.

"It's long overdue to have a street name to recognize the contributions of the Vietnamese community in the area," said Lan Quoc Nguyen, a Westminster attorney and Garden Grove school board member who is not taking sides in the debate over Moran Street. "It shows the sign of welcoming them."

Do, the 65-year-old founder and publisher of Nguoi Viet Daily News, is both touched and a bit embarrassed by the thought that the street where his operation stands could someday be renamed in his honor, said his daughter, Anh Do, a reporter for the Orange County Register.

Do has a reputation as a humble and generous businessman. Nguoi Viet, which has an estimated circulation of 18,000 in Little Saigon, was established in 1978 just as refugees were migrating to Westminster.

In 2003, Do received the Asian American Journalists Assn.'s Lifetime Achievement Award. And last year, he pledged $30,000 to jump start the Yen N. Do Scholarly Research Fund at Cal State Fullerton.

Do's family said he is battling kidney disease and is on a transplant waiting list.

Not everyone thinks Do deserves such an honor.

"I respect him and he respects me, but he has not done anything for the community," said Minh Nguyet Nguyen, president of the Vietnamese Community of Southern California. "He's just a businessman who has been in the community for a long time." Elected leaders in the city say the same thing, and Mayor Margie L. Rice said renaming streets could get out of hand.

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