Little Saigon must stay in the heights of the city

A man walks along El Cajon Boulevard in Little Saigon, a Vietnamese neighborhood in San Diego. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

After a decade and a new census, San Diego is changing the lines of its neighborhoods. Today more than ever, neighborhoods must unite to express their values, their priorities and their needs for representation to their elected officials. When they are separated and divided, their collective power is diluted and their community interests will continue to be ignored.

Little Saigon is deeply rooted in City Heights. Trying to cut it out would be repeating the harmful actions of the past. The City Heights we know today did not exist before. It was divided into three distinct quarters. Being represented by three different members of the municipal council, the community has never been able to fully defend its needs and resources. But then, 10 years ago, members of the City Heights community came together and pushed for their region to be united once and for all. During these 10 years, the region has grown in importance as a region of growth, potential and opportunity for its residents and the city.

What makes City Heights so unique from other parts of San Diego is our community identity tied to an irreplaceable shared diversity, including our refugee and immigrant communities. It forms the love we have for our resilient neighborhoods south of Interstate 8. It is the foundation of the success stories of the thousands of people who have found a niche in San Diego and settled in City Heights. Vietnamese refugees are part of this diversity. From the first residents who settled in San Diego after leaving the refugee sites just north of Camp Pendleton to a road sign guiding tourists through Vietnamese culture on El Cajon Boulevard, Little Saigon is forged in the streets of City Heights .

Moving Little Saigon away from City Heights in a separate district from City Council would only serve to sideline both Little Saigon and City Heights. Without the collective voice of a neighborhood that speaks a dozen languages, neighborhood streets will continue to be a lower priority. Schools will have lower priority. Divided, the people of City Heights will be forced to continue to be silent minorities. At a time when the nation, let alone its eighth largest city, can no longer ignore its communities of color, San Diego cannot redefine itself by drawing a red line between the Vietnamese community of Little Saigon and the community of City Heights. that she calls home.

Our group, Viet Vote, believes in strengthening our community power. For three years with the Vietnamese community here in City Heights, our volunteer members have engaged with residents across the neighborhood. We provided voter education because we know it is one of the best ways to build civic power, which in turn strengthens our community’s presence with our elected officials. We have also actively engaged with members of our community to educate them about the importance of last year’s census to ensure our community responds to be enumerated. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we distributed relief and vaccination information, in English and Vietnamese, to be of the most benefit to all for members of our community. Each of these stages is how our people can come together as a community and develop the power to make real, impactful and lasting change.

But this power cannot be built if its foundations are torn apart every 10 years. The links between the leaders, organizations and neighbors of Little Saigon and City Heights, formed over decades, must be fostered by the unity of political representation. We at Viet Vote demand that all redistribution efforts go beyond street lines and population numbers. We demand that the Redistribution Commission recognize Little Saigon’s solidarity with City Heights and our history with one another by pledging our continued representation in the same city council district.

While the redistribution is heavily map-focused, it shouldn’t be limited to that. For underserved communities like Vietnamese and other City Heights refugees and immigrants, the struggle for the resources of our communities will continue for years to come. In the 2014 non-presidential elections, only 18% of registered Vietnamese voters voted. In the 2018 non-presidential elections, two years after the formation of Viet Vote, that number improved significantly to 34 percent. This is promising because non-presidential elections have a lower turnout than presidential elections, but this number is not sufficient if we are to strengthen community power. After the redistribution process, we will need to continue to engage with members of our community to ensure that our voices are heard beyond this map.

Nam Nguyen and jean-huy tran are respectively vice president and president of Viet Vote, a community group that provides voter education and civic engagement to the Vietnamese community in San Diego.

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