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Finally, 'Little Saigon' banners fly over San Jose

By Lisa M. Krieger

Article Launched: 10/11/2008 08:07:15 PM PDT

20081012050721 flagbannerRaymond Nguyen salutes as the national anthem is played during... (Jim Gensheimer / Mercury News)

Long-awaited "Little Saigon'' banners were unfurled Saturday over the sidewalks and traffic of San Jose's Story Road, ending a contentious effort by the city's South Vietnamese community to name the business district after their fallen former capital.

The installation of the 18 colorful banners was celebrated with speeches and song by a crowd of hundreds of Vietnamese, political exiles who have formed one of the largest expatriate enclaves in the nation. The banners — privately funded, but sanctioned by City Hall after a year of protests, petition drives and combative meetings — have become a symbol of newfound freedom to those who fled their country after a long and losing war against the Communists.

"What these banners symbolize is that they've arrived,'' said San Jose Vice Mayor David Cortese, wearing a Vietnam Republic flag-themed tie, decorated with three red stripes on a yellow field. "After three decades, they've established themselves here and re-established their values — freedom, human rights, democracy, capitalism and basic family values."

The design of the banners was agreed upon in negotiations between the Vietnamese community and the city attorney's office, he said. A prominently featured Vietnam Republic flag was toned down, he said. An image of City Hall's Rotunda was added.

Because the banners along the one-mile stretch of Vietnamese-dominated businesses are only temporary installations under city law, the Vietnamese community is now raising money to erect two permanent concrete monuments saying "Welcome To Little Saigon." One would be where Story Road intersects McLaughlin Avenue, the other at Story and Roberts Street.

New "Little Saigon" license plate holders are also for sale by the Little Saigon-San Jose Foundation. Activists say they will seek to have "Little Saigon" placed on official city maps.

Saturday's emotional ceremony opened with a march of aging South Vietnamese army officers, carrying the American and Vietnam Republic flags, side by side. The crowd then joined in rousing renditions of "The Star Spangled Banner" and the Vietnam Republic anthem. (....)
Cao Hien, president of the Little Saigon San Jose Foundation, called for a moment of silence "for the sacrifice of the Vietnamese people, solders and 58,000 Americans who bravely fought and lost their lives for Vietnamese freedom and democracy."

There was a poignant tribute to the Vietnamese city in a performance of the song "Beautiful Saigon," then raucous applause for Ly Tong, who led a hunger strike from a lawn chair in front of San Jose City Hall to protest the city's original decision to name the stretch of Story Road "Saigon Business District" instead of "Little Saigon.''

On March 5, 2008, the city council rescinded that decision and with a 7-4 vote decided to give the retail area merchants and residents the right to name the business decision. Councilwoman Madison Nguyen faces a March recall organized by activists angered because she opposed naming the area "Little Saigon."

Santa Clara County Supervisor Pete McHugh, also wearing a flag-themed tie, congratulated the crowd for their effort.

Reading Vietnamese off an index card, McHugh said, "I am very happy to be here with you today.'' Then, in English, he said, "I thank you for making democracy work in San Jose. You stood up for what you believed in. I am extremely proud of you.''

"You spent days and nights, shine or rain, with freedom fighter Ly Tong at City Hall,'' said Barry Do, chairman of Little Saigon San Jose .

"Today is the day we have a symbol of Saigon right here on Story Road,'' he said.

Contact Lisa Krieger at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (408) 920-5565.

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