Karin Aguilar-San Juan “Staying Vietnamese: Community and Place in Orange County and Boston

Neighborhoods take on the cultural characteristics as their inhabitants. Place-making activities influence and shape the characteristics of neighborhoods. Karin Aguilar-San Juan focuses on these activities in two Vietnamese neighborhoods, one in Orange County California, the other in Fields Corner in Boston Massachusetts. The major difference between the two is that in Orange County there is a clear delineated location called Little Saigon representing the Vietnamese ethnic community, while in Fields Corner, the Vietnamese community overlaps with other enclave communities. Although the two communities appear to be very similar, Aguilar-San Juan presents marked differences, specifically population size, geographic distribution, and institutional completeness. The Orange County Vietnamese community has approximately seven times the population as Fields Corner, with the majority (75%) living in five adjacent cities, while the Vietnamese community in the Boston were scattered throughout the area among four non-adjacent neighborhoods.

Orange County, California historically has been an area indicative of suburban white privilege, that was developed deliberately as an area catering to for-profit enterprises, however, by the 1970s the demographics were changing as a result of an influx of Vietnamese refugees. Vietnamese shops, groceries and restaurants began to sprout roots in these areas. Through symbolization and territorialization, Little Saigon was formed. This area provides vigorous activity for the Vietnamese community so much so that Vietnamese living hundreds of miles away travel here for shopping and community.

The Vietnamese community in Fields Corner Boston began to form in 1975 when the Vietnamese refugees settled in the Chinatown Area of Boston. Eventually, high rent Forced Vietnamese into Fields Corner where their place-making activities made them the most powerful, albeit the smallest, immigrant group in the community. There the Vietnamese developed long term support systems, including affordable housing, jobs and child care services, that would ensure the survival snd success of the community. Their plans to develop a culturally-centric community have not proved successful as in Little Saigon, some initiatives that are thriving in Orange County, such as community centers and Vietnamese Soldier memorials, were not supported in Boston, preventing strong symbolization and territorialization of the Fields Corner Vietnamese community.

Regardless of the differences in their place-making activities, both communities have found a way to develop and grow among the American cities and “stay Vietnamese” in the process.

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