Leaders to name S.J. Vietnamese district

March 5, 2008 7:02:32 PM PST
The Vietnamese Business District along San Jose's Story Road is without a name on Wednesday night.

The city council rescinded the controversial name "Saigon Business District."

But it did not adopt the name "Little Saigon" -- which so many people there want. Now city leaders want businesses to do the job they botched.

Thomas Coa is both tired and angry. His dentistry practice is on Story Road.

Cao was part of a large and vocal crowd last night supporting the name Little Saigon. The council did not give them a victory.

"It was too quick, upset the people. This just intensifies the whole conflict," said Story Road dentist Thomas Cao, DDS.

In the same shopping center though Lau Le is pleased the city is starting fresh. The council wants the 300 or so businesses along Story Road to come to their own agreement about a name.

"To me it doesn't matter what name it should be. Whether it's Saigon Business District or Little Saigon, it's whatever is best for the community and the people," said Story Road business owner Lau le.

This whole controversy started because Council woman Madison Nguyen wanted to bring pride and recognition to the Vietnamese retail area. No one argued with that but the naming debate has become a spectacle that has attracted national attention.

Little Saigon supporters say that name represents their homeland before communist takeover and have even accused people who favor other names as communist sympathizers.

Hein Duc Do is a San Jose State professor and wrote a book called the Vietnamese Americans.

"This is a no win situation. It reflects badly on everything. The city Council did not do its homework. Madison Nguyen underestimated the emotional reaction," said San Jose State University professor Hien Duc Do, Ph.D.

Councilmember Nguyen says her good intentions at compromise got caught in a complex cultural tapestry. She is the first Vietnamese-American elected to the city council.

"I just want people to understand that being the first Vietnamese American, I really didn't have anyone before me to sort of acquired learned lessons," said Madison Nguyen from the San Jose City Council.

Mayor Chuck Reed says the four months of bitter debate is due in part to a flawed system which is why he supports starting over.

"I made mistakes, we collectively made mistakes. I think last night would have been another mistake if we imposed Little Saigon on businesses who didn't want it," said Mayor Chuck Reed from San Jose.

The idea now is to have the Story Road business community take ownership in naming the district and perhaps even leave elected leaders out of the process.