DONNING TRADITIONAL ÁO dài dresses and Vietnamese heritage flag face masks, hundreds of South Bay residents joined county officials Saturday to celebrate the opening of the first-ever Vietnamese American Service Center.
Ai Duong Truong came to the event with her friends from the Hội Người Việt Cao Niên San Jose (Vietnamese Senior Group in San Jose). The group all dressed in the same green áo dài with gold flower details. Truong said it’s an honor to see the center come to life.
“I’m 81 already,” Truong told San José Spotlight in Vietnamese. “Most of us are over 80 years old, and we’re all very happy to be here to celebrate this moment.”
The 37,000 square foot, three-story building is located at the intersection of Senter and Tully roads in San Jose. The $50-million project was much-anticipated by the community and took nearly a decade to finish.
Attendees were greeted with a tradition lion dance performance, as laughter filled the air. Many flocked to the front of the building to pose for pictures, while others embraced each other in celebration of the historic moment.
“This is so important for our community,” Thang My, a resident of more than 20 years, told San José Spotlight in Vietnamese. “We have all waited for a long time for this.”
My said she used to go to the city’s Vietnamese Cultural Center on Lucretia Avenue prior to the pandemic, but the center is small and couldn’t accommodate all the unique needs from the large Vietnamese population in San Jose.
San Jose is home to more than 140,000 Vietnamese residents, making it the city with the largest Vietnamese population in the U.S.
“There are so many of us here,” My said. “We need a community space that reflects that.”
Many local and state politicians including Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Rep. Ro Khanna and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, joined the community at the ribbon cutting. Supervisors Cindy Chavez, Susan Ellenberg and Otto Lee, Sen. Dave Cortese and several San Jose councilmembers were also in attendance.
“What a beautiful day in San Jose and Santa Clara County,” Chavez said. “And today, we make history.”
At the center, older residents can come for nutritious meals twice a day and participate in recreational programs. Those with medical needs can use the health clinic on the second floor, while the third floor will be open for meetings, gatherings and community events, county officials said. The center, with a focus on serving the Vietnamese community, is the first of its kind in the nation.
The center, located on county land and funded by the county’s general fund, will also serve people of other ethnicities.
Young Vietnamese residents are excited about the new service center, too. Resident Total Nguyen hopes the center will serve as a bridge for their generation to connect with older Vietnamese members in the community.
“Sometimes the youth is separate from our elders because some of us can’t speak Vietnamese,” Nguyen said, adding that many Vietnamese parents only wanted their kids to speak English. “I think this could be a place where we all come together.”
There hasn’t been a good place besides the Grand Century Mall where the Vietnamese community can gather for large events and celebrations — such as Tết and Mid Autumn Festival, resident Nicole Phan told San José Spotlight.
“This is so wonderful to have another space to gather,” Phan said. “Especially where it’s also offering social services that many might not know about.”
County employee Khanh Dang stopped at the intersection outside of the building to pose for a picture. He said he can’t wait for the health clinic to start operating later this year.
“I’ve been with the county for 20 years,” he said. “And this is finally the opportunity for me to serve my community directly.”
Contact Tran Nguyen at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.
This story originally appeared in San Jose Spotlight.