(June 26, 2023) – Little Saigon in Orange County, California has long served as an important home for the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam. With numerous planned improvements on the horizon, it will soon take a major step forward as it secures a place as an iconic global destination.
“Little Saigon serves as a vibrant cultural hub for all of Southern California,” said Supervisor Andrew Do, Vice-Chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. “Our community has it all – from a range of enriching cultural events to world-class cuisine.”
This month, Vietnamese-American officials celebrated the 35th anniversary of the State’s designation of Little Saigon with a community celebration at the Asian Garden Mall. Organized by State Assemblyman Tri Ta, Supervisor Do, and other Vietnamese community leaders, the event reminded the community of how far it has come.
Commemorating the Past: Little Saigon Freeway Sign
After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, Vietnamese resettled throughout the world. In a deeply divided America, Vietnamese refugees often faced hate and hostility.
In the mid-1970s, the rise of Bolsa Avenue as a commercial center catered to Vietnamese tastes. In a matter of years, the area started attracting more and more Vietnamese families from across the country, growing very quickly. Over time, as culture and entertainment continued to expand, the area became the spiritual home for Vietnamese ex-patriots around the world.
“Many Vietnamese refugee families, including mine, came to Orange County through the second wave of migration, said Supervisor Andrew Do. “After living in an area with no access to Vietnamese food and culture, coming to Orange County and having access to all of it was very significant.”
On June 17, 1988, then-Republican Gov. George Deukmejian visited Bolsa Avenue to officially recognize the area as a tourist and business district by adding “Little Saigon” directional signs on Interstate 405 and Route 22. The freeway signs represented the first “Little Saigon” in the United States. That’s when Vietnamese refugees finally felt heard.
“Every time I see a Little Saigon freeway sign, it sends a clear message that we Vietnamese-Americans belong in Orange County,” said Supervisor Do. “I think about the school kids who have faced racism at school or an elderly grandparent who has been yelled at while in line at the DMV.”
“The Little Saigon freeway signs became a source of pride and historical significance,” said Van Tran, Chief of Staff for the First District and the first Vietnamese American seated in a state Legislature. “In 1988, I was a student at UCI working for then-state senator Ed Royce, organizer of the freeway sign unveiling ceremony, and I witnessed history in the making. To honor such a special occasion, I contacted CalTrans and requested new Little Saigon signs.”
Today, a total of 10 new Little Saigon signs can now be seen on Route 22. Signs on the 405 are still pending due to construction.
“Now, every time we drive down the 405 and the 22 freeways – the two main freeways in the heart of Orange County – we are reminded of Vietnamese American’s struggles, triumphs, and accomplishments,” Van Tran added.
IMPROVEMENTS THAT WILL TURN LITTLE SAIGON INTO A WORLD-CLASS DESTINATION
During the 35th anniversary celebration, Van Tran and Westminster Mayor Charlie Nguyen joined Supervisor Andrew Do on stage to announce the following improvement projects currently in the works that will elevate Little Saigon even further and help to contribute to the rich history of Little Saigon and as part of a bigger community in Orange County.
Historic Designation by the U.S. Department of the Interior
On June 6, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to support sponsoring Supervisor Do’s effort by the County to get Little Saigon designated by the U.S. Department of the Interior as a Historic Designation. Some benefits of being on that registry include allowing Little Saigon as a business district and all the businesses within it to apply for government grants, get tax credits, and for donations to be taxed deductible. This will help businesses in Little Saigon build more parking and the infrastructure needed to take Little Saigon’s commerce to the next level.
Little Saigon Archway
Supervisor Do has also allocated $1.5 million from the First District office to build an archway over Bolsa Avenue to signify to tourists and visitors that they are in Little Saigon. With the Olympics coming to California in 2028, the archway will draw crowds from across the world.
Assemblyman Tri Ta’s ACR 71 & the 405 Freeway
The 405 freeway is a central transportation hub for Orange County and Southern California. Four years ago, Supervisor Do and his colleagues on the OCTA Board voted to expand the 405 freeway through a $2.2 billion expansion project expected to be completed by the end of this year. In addition to the new freeway signs on the 405 and 22 freeways to direct traffic to Little Saigon, Assemblyman Tri Ta presented a resolution, ACR 71, to the legislature in May recognizing the 405 from Bolsa Chica to Magnolia as the “Little Saigon Freeway.”
Vietnam War Memorial at Mile Square Park
To commemorate the U.S. soldiers who perished during the Vietnam War and were Orange County residents, Supervisor Do also announced the Vietnam War Memorial project at Mile Square Park. This memorial will be a smaller version of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. It will also recognize the South Vietnamese Army and our allies who assisted during the war.
Vietnamese Cultural Center at Mile Square Park
Two of Supervisor Do’s long-term projects are the Vietnamese Cultural Center at Mile Square Park and the Vietnamese Veterans Cemetery at Gypsum Canyon, which is now working its way up to the state and federal agencies.
“All of these projects are destination amenities that will help create that iconic image that will remind people of where they are. And when we do that, it will become part of people’s expectations and will soon increase business and tourism and bring more commerce to Orange County,” said Supervisor Andrew Do.