Seattle’s Little Saigon keeps its culture alive with or without “real commitment” from officials


Little Saigon in Seattle illustrates in many ways the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Windows are boarded up along busy streets. Some companies are struggling to stay open, while others have folded under economic pressure. And violent crime is on the rise as it is across the city in 2021.

Quynh Fam says the neighborhood was neglected before the pandemic. And as before, she says the community is fighting for itself “because no one else” is.

“We produce a plan that goes on a website,” she says of discussions with officials. “But what does that mean in terms of the physical resources and the real investments that come with it? There is no real commitment.”

Pham is the Executive Director of Friends of Little Saigon, a non-profit organization created to preserve the culture, businesses and history of the Vietnamese community in Seattle.

Little Saigon settled in the international district of Chinatown shortly after the fall of Saigon in 1975, bringing a wave of refugees to Washington State and especially to Seattle; it was here that they found Asian groceries and other familiar parts of life, Pham says, so they decided to add a Vietnamese influence to the region.

Beloved Seattle businesses like the Viet-Wah Supermarket and Phở Bắc were among the first to set the scene around the popular intersection of 12th Avenue South and South Jackson Street.

Pham says these establishments attracted people who were not familiar with Vietnamese culture and filled an important void for those who were there.

“They provide a resource that is affordable, but also, it’s like aunts and uncles. They are just my community,” she says. “They built the history and the culture here.”

And they’re keeping him alive with or without help from the city.

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Seattle weather The editorial board recently described Little Saigon as “the Seattle neighborhood the government has forgotten,” portraying the image of a once vibrant cultural hub that is now “beset with overflowing trash cans, trash, dirty sidewalks and open air drug trafficking “.

The council notes that aggravated assaults and burglaries are on the rise across the Chinatown International District compared to 2019.

As recently as last week, Little Saigon business owner Nick Bui gave KOMO News a financial report.

“In just over a year we’ve already been broken into three times,” he said, adding that a broken window alone costs him around $ 1,500. “And during the pandemic for a restaurant, we’re already hit hard. And with that extra cost and damage, it’s hard for us to survive.”

In short, as the Times editors put it, “to walk [Little Saigon’s] streets is to experience visceral neglect. “

Pham agrees – sort of.

She says development in the district has been done without a plan to maintain local businesses or to “incorporate a Vietnamese or Asian character into their projects.”

The gentrification of Little Saigon has been “ridiculous” for Pham, who has been active in conversations with city officials about how to preserve the local culture.

“And we’re working with them on that,” she says of community leaders’ continued efforts to get the city to invest in them. “But when it comes to real, long-term, sustained support? It’s really hard to get it. … Many times my meetings with our city leaders are just words. They don’t translate into a lot of action. “

This is where his take on the neighborhood diverges from the darker takes, however.

“We have to work very hard as a community to lobby for these resources,” and they are, she said.

The proof, she adds, is the existence of groups like Friends of Little Saigon.

The group’s offices are located in Little Saigon Creative, a community space where visitors can also find Hello Em, Seattle’s first Vietnamese coffee roast; when it opens in january, the South Seattle Emerald describes lines below for Vietnamese favorites, like espresso with egg custard and Bánh mì sandwiches.

Co-owner Nghia Bui told the emerald how the name – Hello Em – is a nod to the community and family vibe that Pham describes.

“In Vietnam, [‘hey em’ is] something you say as a greeting to a loved one, “Bui told the emerald. “It’s a mix between English and Vietnamese because that’s the way we are. We’re Americans of Vietnamese descent.”

The Little Saigon Creative exhibits that are based on its walls, with a “visual history” of the neighborhood.

The Creative, like this shared story, reminds Pham of what she still believes is possible for Little Saigon.

Neglect may be obvious, but for her, so is resilience.

“Outside of these doors, you see some of the challenges,” she said. “So people are forgetting the beauty and vibrancy that this neighborhood was – or maybe, if we contributed a little more. “



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