Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Little Saigon, U.S.A.

There are many Little Saigons in the U.S., but the one I'm talking about is in Orange County, California. Located about 45 minutes south of LA, Little Saigon O.C. is centered around Bolsa Avenue in Westminster, a city where, according to the 2000 census, Vietnamese Americans constituted 30.7% of the population.

Little Saigon, or Bolsa (as it is more commonly called), is probably a lot like a suburban Chinatown that you've been to. There are big Asian supermarkets and lots of jewelry, fabric, music and electronics stores and travel agencies. There are Vietnamese cafes and restaurants everywhere you look, as well as a healthy dose of pharmacies, dentists, lawyers and doctors.

Bolsa is about an hour north of Camp Pendleton (near San Diego), which is a marine base that served as a point of entry for many Vietnamese refugees in 1975. Camp Pendleton was one of three bases that housed refugees as part of the U.S. resettlement program (the others were in Arkansas and Florida). The refugee camps were intentionally far apart to prevent newly arrived Vietnamese from clustering together in "ghettos."

By the mid-eighties, Bolsa Avenue was already bumping as a Little Saigon, although a much smaller version of what it is today. As the community continues to grow and thrive, Vietnamese Americans are becoming more politically active. A few hold elected office in Westminster and neighboring Garden Grove and John McCain and the Arnold have paid visits to the area (the latter most recently this Fall during his special election campaign).

Of course, Little Saigon is not without its intrigue. Recently, a mysterious counterfeit sriracha sauce (the red chili sauce in the rooster bottle that is found in all Vietnamese refrigerators) has appeared on the shelves of the Asian markets. The packaging has been copied to a tee, although aficionados know a fake when they taste one (my dad once told my mom that she bought the "wrong" bottle). Apparently, the perpetrators may have been caught because my dad has not tasted a fake in a while.

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