‘Little Saigon’ district proposal gets big boost at City Council hearing

Hiep Chu, a longtime leader in Fields Corner, addressed a City Council committee hearing last Thursday inside the St. Ambrose church hall on the subject of a cultural district designation that would dub parts of Fields Corner as “Little Saigon.” Katie Trojano photo

The proposal for a “Little Saigon” designation for a subsection of the Fields Corner neighborhood that is being considered by the Massachusetts Cultural Council was given a highly positive reception at a City Council hearing held last Thursday evening in St. Ambrose church.

The Networking Organization of Vietnamese Americans (NOVA) has delivered the application to the cultural panel, which would need to approve and fund the designation.

If given final approval, the designation “Little Saigon” would identify a half-mile stretch along portions of Dorchester Avenue and Charles, Park, and Adams streets in Fields Corner as a center of Vietnamese cultural, artistic, and economic activity for at least the next five years.

On Monday, Councillor Frank Baker told the Reporter that the City Council would likely move the resolution forward with a vote on Wednesday. It would then be passed on to the Cultural Council for its consideration.

The hearing, before the City Council’s Committee on Arts, Culture and Special Events, attracted a large delegation of elected officials in addition to members of the commission, and neighborhood residents.

“The Vietnamese community here in Dorchester is really strong, we appreciate them and are here to support them,” said state Rep. Dan Hunt.

Added Rep. Liz Miranda: “I’m really excited about where this community process is going to take us, not only with this initiative but for the future of Fields Corner and our other communities.”

The city currently has four designated cultural districts: The Fenway, Boston Literary, Roxbury, and the Latin Quarter in Jamaica Plain. NOVA noted that the naming of a Little Saigon district would not change the historic name of the larger neighborhood, Fields Corner, just identify a subsection where there is a large clustering of Vietnamese businesses and community centers. 

Most of the public testimony provided at the hearing was supportive of the cultural district, with very few in opposition. One resident identified herself as the only person there voicing dissent.

Hoàng Thông Pham, an operations manager for Unitrans Worldwide, Inc. who performs with the Vietnamese Cultural Group in Boston, spoke up in support of the idea.

“I have lived in the Boston area for more than 20 years. I am proud to be a resident of this historical city, I am also proud to be a Vietnamese American,” said Pham. “Nothing could bring me greater pleasure than to see a piece of my birth country represented in my current country. The official designation of Little Saigon as a cultural district is a celebration of the rich culture and diversity of Boston and gives those visiting a unique cultural experience.”

Ashley Tran, 16, of the Massachusetts Vietnamese Scout Association, said a cultural district will “help young people recognize their heritage and be proud of where they come from, and make them more aware of the programs available to the community.

“It will allow the Vietnamese community to protect and promote their culture and heritage within the neighborhood,” she added. 

Margaret Flynn, who described herself as a 40-year resident of Dorchester, expressed skepticism of the initiative: “I think I’m the only one here that’s against it. I think that this is a diverse neighborhood, and the designation is taking away from our Cape Verdeans, blacks, Caucasians. This is taking away from their communities. This is completely wrong in my perspective. I’m completely against it.”

But Boston Police Captain Tim Connolly, formerly in command at Dorchester’s Area C-11 station, said he “fully supports” the designation. “As C-11 captain, I came to understand that the Vietnamese community was underrepresented within the larger community of Dorchester,” he said. 

City Councillors offered closing statements and provided some direction for moving forward with the process. “This has been an amazing hearing,” said Kim Janey. “I want to thank you all for coming out tonight and offering such powerful, inspiring testimony. I understand how important it is for a community to be able to define for themselves, to name themselves, and to celebrate their culture.”

Said Michelle Wu: “The passion that the community brought to this was inspiring, hopeful, patriotic, and really is about the best of what America stands for and what Boston is.” 

Councillor Baker added a note of gratitude to the hearing: “Thank you to the Vietnamese community for making Dorchester and Boston your home, thank you for the contributions that you’ve made to the neighborhood. We’ll discuss over the weekend and see if we can move this along.”

In a statement on Friday, Mayor Martin Walsh indicated his support for the designation. “We’ve been talking about designating the ‘Little Saigon Cultural District’ for a very long time, and I’m glad to see the community’s proposal finally moving forward,” he said. “I’m proud of the community for their continued advocacy. This cultural designation will attract more business and tourism to the neighborhood, showing how rich Fields Corner is in arts and culture. I’m hopeful that the council will pass the resolution quickly.” 

Others who attended the hearing included Councillor Matt O’Malley and state Sen. Nick Collins.

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