Six Buddhist temples vandalized across Little Saigon this month

Black spray paint including the word "Jesus" on a Buddhist statue
A Buddhist statue at Huong Tich Temple in Santa Ana was recently vandalized. This is one of a string of vandalism incidents at Buddhist temples across the Little Saigon community in Orange County.
(Huong Tich Temple)

Thai Viet Phan, who was recently elected to the Santa Ana City Council, was stunned when she received the advisory notice from the Buddhist temple she attended growing up.

Huong Tich Temple had been vandalized and Santa Ana police had deemed it a hate crime. It was the sixth temple to be vandalized in the area in the last month.

Outside the temple’s entrance, 15 stone Buddha and Bodhisattva statues were defaced with black spray paint. On the back of one read “Jesus” vertically down the spine.

“It’s beyond trespass. It’s beyond vandalism. It’s a hate crime targeted at the Vietnamese American Buddhist community, and we will not stand for that,” Phan told reporters at a news conference held outside a temple in nearby Westminster on Saturday.

Growing up, she attended Sunday school in her small neighborhood temple, Huong Tich, and she made an effort to rekindle relations with her temple while recently campaigning for a seat on the City Council, where she will serve as the city’s first Vietnamese American council member.

Two women, wearing masks and carrying cans of spray paint, were caught on video surveillance footage late Monday evening trespassing and defacing statues at the Santa Ana temple. Both were seen in dark clothing, one wearing a blue Patriots beanie and the other a black beanie.

A group of people in masks, including officials, police and Buddhist monks in orange robes
Local elected officials and police officers gather at Dieu Ngu Temple in Westminster on Saturday afternoon for a news conference regarding a string of vandalism incidents at Buddhist temples across the Little Saigon community.
(Stephanie Lai / Los Angeles Times)

Police investigating all six incidents of vandalism say they could be related and are pursuing at least two suspects. Three temples have been vandalized with black spray paint in Garden Grove, two in Santa Ana and one in Westminster.

A similar vandalism incident of five temples in Santa Ana and two houses of worship in Garden Grove occurred in 2018, resulting in a woman arrested for breaking off pieces of the statues. Police officials from the three cities have begun a coordinated investigation and do not believe the person involved in the earlier incident is related to the current hate crime.

Sgt. Gil Hernandez said Santa Ana police have stepped up patrols at temples across the city and have been sharing evidence with neighboring police departments.

“The damage to property is not what keeps us up at night or what bothers us the most, it’s the hate crime in itself and the negative impact to interfaith relations in our community,” the Venerable Vien Hay of the Dieu Ngu Temple, one of the affected temples in Westminster, said in Vietnamese.

The latest incident comes one month after Orange County released its 2019 hate crimes report, which showed a 24% rise in hate crimes from 2018. Last year also marked the fifth straight year of increasing hate crimes in the county. With the ongoing pandemic and backlash targeting Asian Americans, officials worry the number of hate crimes will continue to grow.

Garden Grove City Councilwoman Diedre Nguyen, who organized Saturday’s news conference, said she worried of what the hate crimes may signal for her community. Nguyen said she was heartbroken to see thousands of dollars in damage at places of peace and worship.

“I’m mostly scared that because of our culture, many people won’t feel comfortable reporting these incidents,” Nguyen said, “but I want to get out the message that they should if they know anything.”