Despite avid opposition from Alief residents, City Council member Steve Le said at City Hall Wednesday that he's still going through with his proposal to call a segment along Bellaire Boulevard “Little Saigon” — albeit without the Vietnamese monument he wanted to erect.
Le proposed earlier this year that, given the fact that there are dozens upon dozens of Vietnamese restaurants and businesses along the boulevard from Turtlewood Drive to Cook Road, it would be appropriate to designate the area “Little Saigon” in order to attract more tourism. He had planned to put signs at both ends, erect a monument and also install way-finding signs along nearby highways, which would have cost $68,000 — paid for partly by his office (i.e., taxpayers) and by business owners who would benefit, Le told us earlier this month.
At a community meeting a couple of weeks ago, however, Alief residents overwhelmingly opposed Le's idea. They argued the management district had already dubbed the area the “International District,” because of Alief's diverse makeup. They argued the proposal was “divisive” because it singled out one ethnicity while ignoring others. And they argued it was a waste of funds.
Still, in an interview with the Houston Press shortly afterward, Le told us he thought there were far more people in support of the proposal and that he would likely proceed with it. (He did not return a request for comment Thursday.) According to the Houston Chronicle, at City Hall Wednesday, Le's proposal ditched plans for the monument and way-finding signs along highways — but Le had no intention of scrapping the plans entirely. It is unclear what the new price tag will be.
“That just shows that regardless of what the community says, he's still going to move forward with what he wants to do and what he's envisioning,” said Francisco Garcia, an Alief community activist who founded United Hoods (Helping Others Out During Struggles).
Garcia argued that although the area is already named the International District, and aside from opponents' claims that singling out one ethnicity is not representative of the neighborhood's diversity, he doesn't think Le has his priorities straight.
Tourism, he said, should not be taking precedence over what the residents actually living in the community see as their primary needs. Those include crime reduction, more entry-level or skilled jobs for young people, and enhanced after-school opportunities for kids, Garcia said.
“Since taking office, the only real project he's brought media attention — and division in the community — is designating this Little Saigon,” Garcia said. “We're getting way ahead of ourselves. We're talking about business stimulation, but the priorities are not based on what the community needs.”
A man who works in a Vietnamese restaurant, Hoang Tran, told the Houston Press earlier this month that the Little Saigon designation would be welcomed among Vietnamese community members — many of whom fled the oppressive Communist Vietnamese government for Houston. He said every culture has a symbol, recognizable across the world, that is a source of pride. This is theirs.
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