Parade today celebrates Little Saigon area of Sacramento
February 4, 2012
Sacramento’s only official ethnic neighborhood is thriving along an unmistakable stretch of Stockton Boulevard, where the markets sell live frogs and old men gossip over games of checkers.
Today, Little Saigon introduces itself to the rest of the region.
Neighborhood businesses and residents are beaming over a parade aimed at both celebrating the Lunar New Year and marketing their collection of cafes, shops and food markets.
Growth in the neighborhood has been significant in recent years, driven by a generation of Vietnamese business owners who were children when their families fled their homeland after the fall of Saigon in 1975. More than 60 businesses, ranging from new restaurants to insurance agencies, belong to a burgeoning chamber of commerce.
Despite its economic growth, Little Saigon continues to battle a stigma that has been attached to Stockton Boulevard for years. Long stretches of the boulevard – which runs from midtown Sacramento to Elk Grove – are barren and crime-ridden.
Crime in Little Saigon has dropped sharply in the past few years, though store owners still contend with burglaries and robberies. An eight-hour standoff between sheriff’s deputies and an alleged gunman in an apartment complex on the boulevard earlier this week rattled some business owners and residents.
“Truly, behind all of this (the parade), is to bring the mainstream in,” said Mai Nguyen, the president of the Greater Sacramento Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce.
The parade is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. and will run through the heart of Little Saigon, along the Stockton Boulevard business corridor from Fruitridge Road to Florin Road.
After an emotional hearing before an overflow crowd of supporters waiving American flags, the City Council voted unanimously in 2010 to designate that stretch of Stockton Boulevard as Little Saigon. Business owners and residents had called it that for years, but the council’s designation made it the only ethnic neighborhood in the city to be officially recognized.
“There’s a sense of place along Stockton Boulevard that’s been transformed,” said Councilman Kevin McCarty, whose district takes in the area. “It’s rare to see that much energy and passion on a sustained level.”
Thai Tran embodies that passion. One year ago today, Tran opened the Pho Saigon Bay restaurant on Stockton, just south of 47th Avenue, adding to four other restaurants he owns in the region. Since the Vietnamese community has created such a strong presence on Stockton, he said, it has a responsibility to make it thrive.
“We have no choice,” he said. “We have to make it.”
Tran and Nguyen were part of a wave of Vietnamese who moved to Sacramento over the past three decades.
In 2010, Sacramento was home to 5,683 residents born in Vietnam, four times the Vietnamese-born population living here in 1980. About 23,000 Sacramento residents identify themselves as Hmong or Vietnamese, according to U.S. census data.
Tran considers himself part of a “middle generation” – those who were born in Vietnam and were young when their families fled to the United States following the fall of Saigon, when the People’sArmy of Vietnam captured the South Vietnam capital, ending the Vietnam War.
That generation has attempted to maintain cultural links to their homeland, while adapting to the American business climate.
“We can offer a culture that will benefit everyone in Sacramento,” Tran said this week, sipping tea inside his restaurant.
In a sign of just how much growth has occurred in Little Saigon, many Vietnamese said they no longer need to travel to San Jose or San Francisco on weekends for provisions that once weren’t available in Sacramento.
At the New Asia Supermarket, the aisles are stocked with staples of both the American and Vietnamese cultures. The pharmacy carries Eagle Oil, a popular remedy for sore muscles, and jars of dried sea cucumber and scallops line the shelves. Next to a butcher serving all cuts of meat are tanks of live sturgeon, blue crabs and frogs.
“If you want to serve the Vietnamese community in Sacramento, you have to be here now,” said Mimi Trinh, whose Golden Best insurance agency has been open two years. “This has become the main street of the Vietnamese community.”
But the expansion of Vietnamese businesses along the boulevard has touched off a new movement, Nguyen said.
“We need to start bridging other cultures to do business with us,” she said. “We’ve seen non-Vietnamese businesses have a hard time coming in. They think it’s secluded, that they’ll be isolated, and we need to break that chain.”
Bringing in more people and businesses will require convincing them that this stretch of StocktonBoulevard is safe. To help in that effort, the chamber of commerce is working with city and county officials to install surveillance cameras.
On the stretch of Stockton Boulevard between Fruitridge and Florin, police and sheriff’s deputies took reports of 39 robberies in 2011 – down from 61 in 2007, records show. Burglaries and reports of drug activity have also fallen.
“We have to bring a new light in from other cities, Roseville, Natomas, Elk Grove,” Nguyen said. “We want to connect them to this area that has had all the negative connotations with crime activity in the past.
“There is a lot of potential out here.”