Cultural Retention

Wood, Joeseph. “Vietnamese American Place Making in Northern Virginia” Geographical Review 87, no. 1(January 1997), 58-72.

Wood, Joeseph. “Vietnamese American Place Making in Northern Virginia,” Geographical Review 87, no. 1 (January 1997), 58-72.

 

While Vietnamese immigrants adapted their own practices to American culture in several ways, they also worked hard to remember their past and maintain their heritage. One way in which they successfully did this was through continuing to communicate in their native language. In the restaurants that they ran, and in gatherings of fellow Vietnamese immigrants that occurred in churches or the Eden Center, language lived on and helped these refugees retain a their culture.

Despite Vietnamese refugees coming to the United States and adapting many traits of American culture, they retained much of their heritage. One way they did this was the Eden Center, which was a cultural mega-center for many refugees on the East Coast of the United States. The Eden Center originated in Clarendon, Virginia, and was also known as “Little Saigon.”[1] It consisted of two small Vietnamese grocery stores before the Fall of Saigon in 1975. With the new waves of Vietnamese refugees who began to come to the United States and settle in Northern Virginia, “Little Saigon” began to grow until 1982 when landlords refused to renew their leases, so they moved to a shopping center in Falls Church, Virginia. In 1984, the Eden Center was born.[2] The Eden Center as discussed in our employment section grew to about 120 stores most ran by Vietnamese refugees, but the Eden center did not only serve as a place where these Vietnamese refugees could travel to get some Pho or buy some stuff. The Eden Center became a hotspot for many Vietnamese refugees to travel to on the weekends from as far as New York to not only shop for Vietnamese ingredients, but they also traveled to the Eden Center to meet with friends who also were able to flee from Vietnam.[3] It became a family tradition for Vietnamese refugees to come to the Eden Center on weekends and “relish being Vietnamese” while younger Vietnamese would be in coffee shops and billiard halls older veterans that fought for South Vietnam would be there as well.[4] All these Vietnamese people coming together on the weekends to speak their language, eat their Vietnamese food, and have cultural exchange between Vietnamese young and old kept the Vietnamese refugees feeling like they were still Vietnamese. The Eden Center was a place like no other on the East Coast where Vietnamese refugees could be with each other like maybe a baseball game would be for American culture. Providing the Vietnamese with a place where they could help keep their culture and heritage alive.

Vietnamese were also able to preserve their culture and heritage through their food. As mentioned previously the restaurant profession was a large part of employment for Vietnamese in Alexandria with three restaurants (the Nam’s River, Ambrosia Cafe, and the East Wind) being ran by Vietnamese. These restaurants sold almost exclusively Vietnamese food. This was a way that the Vietnamese held onto their culture because despite being able to create a restraint that served American food to attract customers these restaurants stuck with their Vietnamese roots and held onto their culture like they did in other ways as well.

Another key place in which Vietnamese culture was kept alive was in places of worship such as Catholic churches and Buddhist temples. Vietnamese Catholicism has transferred well to America, and today, “most dioceses where there are a sizeable number of Vietnamese Catholics have at least one, and in many cases, several Vietnamese parishes,” including one in Arlington and one in Washington, D.C., well within reach of immigrants living in Alexandria.[5] According to a directory of Vietnamese churches in the Northern Virginia area, there are currently 14 churches in the D.C. metro area that serve a Vietnamese congregation, including Vietnamese Gospel Baptist Church and Hy Vong Vietnamese Baptist Church, both located in Alexandria.[6] Many of these Vietnamese churches, including Holy Martyrs of Vietnam Catholic Parish in Arlington, Virginia, and Renaissance Gospel Baptist Church in Falls Church, Virginia have websites that cater primarily to the immigrant communities, with services in Vietnamese.[7] Likewise, there are numerous Buddhist temples catering to Vietnamese immigrants within the greater Northern Virginia area. The ability to gather together with fellow Vietnamese, share and discuss issues and experiences, and in some cases, worship in their native language, are key elements in helping Vietnamese immigrants maintain strong cultural ties to their country of origin.

[1] Jessica, Meyers. “Pho and Apple Pie: Eden Center as a Representation of Vietnamese American Ethnic Identity in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area, 1975-2005.” Journal of Asian American Studies 9, no. 1 (Feb 2006): 62.

[2] Ibid., 63-4.

[3] Ibid., 56.

[4] Joseph Wood. “Vietnamese American Place Making in Northern Virginia.” Geographical Review 87, no. 1 (1997): 68.

[5] Peter Phan, “Vietnamese Catholics in the United States: Christian Identity between the Old and the New,” U.S. Catholic Historian 18, no. 1 (Winter, 2000): 20-21.

[6] D.C. Church Blog, The Church in D.C.: Vietnamese Churches in DC, MD, VA, accessed December 7, 2015, http://thechurchindc.blogspot.com/2012/03/vietnamese-churches-in-dc-md-va.html

[7] Holy Martyrs of Vietnam Catholic Parish, accessed December 7, 2015, http://www.cttdva.com/; Renaissance Gospel Baptist Church, Hoi Thanh Tin Lanh Bap Tit Phuc Hung, accessed December 7, 2015, http://www.baptitphuchung.com/.