San Jose City Council approves 'Little Saigon' banners
By Joshua Molina
After months of protests, rallies, even a hunger strike, the San Jose City Council on Tuesday voted to allow "Welcome to Little Saigon" banners to informally recognize a Vietnamese retail area on Story Road.
The 10-0 vote brought an end to the incredible uproar over the last several months after the council voted to call the area "Saigon Business District," enraging thousands in the community who wanted "Little Saigon."
The council's Tuesday vote paves the way for the community to raise money and then get city approval for temporary banners on Story Road between Highway 101 and Senter Road. The banners are likely to be made permanent once the city comes up with a new process for naming business districts - to ensure that the ideas come from the ground up and to avert future political disasters over naming.
Officials don't know how soon they could mount the banners, but approval of the design could take up to 45 days.
At the center of the months-long firestorm was Madison Nguyen, the only Vietnamese-American on the council. Activists called her a traitor and a liar for initially opposing the name Little Saigon. On Tuesday, Nguyen, who had repeatedly insisted that she would not change her mind on the name, said she was "filled with optimism."
"It is only through productive dialogue and communication that we are able to work together," she said.
Nguyen preferred the name Saigon Business District - even though an official city survey conducted last summer showed Little Saigon was the preferred name.
As the weeks went by, the Little Saigon movement picked up momentum.
The outrage was fueled by several missteps by the council. Councilman Forrest Williams (who was absent from Tuesday's vote because he was visiting China) said in an interview on Vietnamese television that he had promised prior to the council's Nov. 20 vote to support Nguyen's decision to designate the district as a Vietnamese retail area. His comments forced the City Attorney to recommend that the council rescind its original vote because of a perception Nguyen had spoken to a majority of council members before the vote - which would have violated the Brown Act, the state's open meetings law.
One man, Ly Tong, also went on a hunger strike for more than month, saying he would not eat until the council named the area Little Saigon.
The ordeal zapped time and energy from the city and sparked unwanted international media attention.
"This is the first positive step to solve the conflict and reduce the tension between the city and the Viet community," said Barry Hung Do, spokesman for San Jose Voters For Democracy, the main group pushing for the Little Saigon name.
Still, on Tuesday some people were not happy. They want the city to make the temporary signs permanent.
'If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, why don't we just call it a duck?" said councilman Kansen Chu, a Little Saigon proponent.
Contact Joshua Molina at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 275-2002