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Borders & Heritage

Little Saigon in Seattle

April 14, 2016

Little Saigon is located around Jackson St. and 12th Ave. S. A full map can be found on the <a  data-cke-saved-href="">International District's website</a>.

As the fall of Saigon in 1975 marked the end of the Vietnam War, Americans experienced an influx of Vietnamese refugees. While other places were reluctant to accept the refugees, former governor Dan Evans welcomed them to Washington State. Eventually, a small neighborhood of Vietnamese shops, grocery stores, restaurants and community centers sprang up in the eastern part of Seattle's International District. This article was originally published on in June 2015.

"We were really looking to rebuild our lives and for a place we could call, similar to home, so we named it Little Saigon," says Minh-Duc Pham Nguyen, executive director of Helping Link, a nonprofit focused on helping and educating Vietnamese immigrant families.

For many of the older generation, the neighborhood provided a sense of familiarity in a foreign country. They could speak their own language and buy the foods and items that they were accustomed to back home. 

A grocery store worker lays out fruits and vegetable outside the <a   data-cke-saved-href="" target="_blank">Lam's Seafood Market</a>.

"Little Saigon was a slice of heaven for my parents and their family," says Seattle Times journalist Thanh Tan. Tan's parents arrived in Seattle in 1978, a year that marked the second wave of Vietnamese refugees coming to the United States. Tan was born in the United States. "What this neighborhod symbolizes to me is survival," says Tan. "People who were forced to flee their homeland came here and wanted to start over, and decided that we want a little area that is ours." 

The community not only sought to provide the physical aspects of their culture, but the spiritual as well. The Chua Viet Nam was the first Vietnamese Buddhist temple in Washington State. The temple is a place for holiday gatherings, and a center of religious and cultural development for the community.

Seattle's first Vietnamese Buddhist temple, Chua Viet Nam.

A statue of Quan Am, the Buddhist goddess of compassion, in the Chua Viet Nam Temple courtyard.

"At first it was more like a temple/community center, so people who were new to the country needed a lot of help establishing their life here," saysThanh Tang, a staff member from the Chua Viet Nam.

But Little Saigon is not just a place for immigrants — residents of Seattle have also embraced this community. People know it as a place to experience Vietnamese culture. It is not uncommon to see non-Vietnamese patronizing the restaurants and bookstores, as well as the temple and community center. The temple has even started to offer an English service.

Even though, on the surface, American and Vietnamese cultures seem very different, the struggles that both share have brought them closer together.

"There was such a strong connection. Americans fought in the [Vietnam] War, Americans lost soldiers, lost people in that war. Vietnamese also lost love ones," says Tan. "I think that there is a bond between the two cultures, and even though it has been 40 years since the war, I think it is still there and it should be preserved."


Laila Kazmi

@Lailakaz — Laila Kazmi is a Northwest Emmy award-winning senior producer and writer at KCTS 9. Her first love is discovering and telling stories of diverse people, places and history. She has lived in Karachi, Bahrain, Chicago, and Seattle. At KCTS 9, Laila produces the series Borders & Heritage, featuring stories of immigrant and refugee experiences in the Pacific Northwest and has produced Reel NW, featuring independent films from and about the Pacific Northwest. Her video-stories have appeared on KCTS 9PBS NewsHour Art Beat, World Channel at WGBH, and KPBS in San Diego. Her articles have been published in PBS NewsHour Art BeatThe Seattle Times, Seattle PI, COLORLINES and Pakistan’s daily Dawn. Laila has a Master of Communication from the University of Washington.

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