Big trouble in Canada's Little Saigon
VANCOUVER — The designation of a neighborhood in westernmost Canada as "Little Saigon" was meant to revitalize a few seedy city blocks, but has instead inflamed old North and South Vietnamese rivalries.
Saigon was the name of the capital of the former South Vietnam, from where most of Canada's Vietnamese immigrants originated.
Immediately after the South's fall to the communists in 1975, it was renamed Ho Chi Minh City for a former North Vietnamese leader.
For some of those who moved to Canada from the North, the branding of a
stretch of Vancouver's Kingsway Avenue "Little Saigon" was too political a
move, harking back to Vietnam's colonial past
Saigon was the name the
French used for the city and internal feuds following independence in
Marc Nguyen landed in Canada in 1978 with thousands of other "boat people" who faced deadly storms, diseases and starvation on the open seas after fleeing their homes in Vietnam after the communist takeover.
"If someone were to hang a red flag with a yellow star (a symbol of Vietnam's communist regime) here, I assure you that there would be protests on the street," he told AFP.
Yet it is the opposite that has sparked tensions.
North Vietnamese immigrants voiced their support in a referendum on naming the neighborhood "Little Saigon," but say they have felt excluded by a hail of South Vietnamese nationalist sentiment that followed.
"A small group is using (the new name) for political purposes," said a restaurant owner who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.
"This area should be for the whole community, including people from the North. Instead, North Vietnamese feel rejected."
The inauguration of Vancouver's "Little Saigon" last month was celebrated with South Vietnam flags, loudspeakers blaring its pre-communist national anthem, and young women in tight-fitting silk tunics worn over pantaloons, or ao dai.
Nancy Bui is a refugee from the North. She refused to attend the gala event, exasperated by all the griping about communism that goes on at such community events.
"We're all Vietnamese," Bui told AFP. "We should be moving forward, together."
Lam Dang, from a community group that helps settle immigrants, explained that most former North Vietnamese stayed away because they are generally "reluctant to participate in events of a political nature.
"The civil war left deep wounds in both camps and the memories are still fresh in their minds," he said.
"Over the years, tensions eased between the two refugee groups and they were working to reconcile," he added, but city council's approval in October of the "Little Saigon" designation has inadvertently reopened those old wounds.
The new designation will come with special street signs, banners and commemorative plaques singling out the area as a distinct cultural neighborhood.
For now, the only indications that 26,000 Vietnamese have settled here over the past four decades to become the fifth largest community in Vancouver, are the Pho soup on local restaurant menus and signs in Vietnamese in some storefronts.
"There's been a lot of traffic, but people aren't yet stopping to buy," said a local herbalist, still hoping that the new designation will eventually make the area "more visible to tourists."
The exact neighborhood boundaries will be determined early next year after further consultations with local residents.
Before then, there are a lot of vacant storefronts that must be filled to boost the street's appeal, said Dean Trinh of a local Vietnamese business association.
By Laurent Vu The - Agence France Presse - November 28, 2011