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2 Immigrant Groups Seek Same Land

Korean American business leaders see a proposed Vietnamese library and cultural center as out of place in their Garden Grove backyard.

September 03, 2003|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

Hoping to block what they see as an intrusion by Little Saigon, Korean American business leaders in Garden Grove have proposed their own community center for a coveted piece of city land.

Korean Americans say the Vietnam Library and Museum does not belong along Garden Grove Boulevard, the city's main artery and gateway to the city-designated Korean Business District.

"Westminster is more, symbolically, for the Vietnamese community," than is Garden Grove, said Euiwon Chough, executive advisor of the Korean American Chamber of Commerce. "The library would be more appealing and utilized more in Westminster. It belongs there."

The Garden Grove site is part of a 16.5-acre area adjacent to the Korean Business District that the city -- which owns about half the land -- has designated the Brookhurst Triangle.

The city has solicited proposals for the site, drawing plans that include housing and strip malls.

One group that hopes to use the land is the Nhan Ai Foundation, a small nonprofit organization that proposed building a $10-million Vietnamese library and cultural center on three acres of the site that would be donated by the city.

Korean community members missed the Feb. 16 deadline but turned in their proposal last week after hearing about the library plans. They hope to build a 20,000-square-foot community center with conference facilities and adjacent shopping strip.

The project is proposed for a site that includes the land sought for the Vietnamese library.

Chough said community leaders have planned to build such a center for at least five years but did not have a particular site in mind -- until the Vietnamese center proposal came along.

The counterproposal drew criticism from backers of the Vietnamese library.

Phat Bui, who lives in Garden Grove and runs a software consulting business in the city, said Little Saigon -- the commercial and cultural hub that originated in Westminster -- has expanded continually since Vietnamese refugees began immigrating more than 28 years ago. Little Saigon now stretches to Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Fountain Valley.

Vietnamese Americans make up more than 20% of the Garden Grove population; less than 4% are Korean Americans.

"There is no land in Westminster to build a library," Bui said. "The Korean community and the Vietnamese community will need to live together because there's no more room."

Bui said the Vietnamese community is not trying to interfere with Korean businesses but rather trying to accommodate the demand for services.

He said the library would be back from Garden Grove Boulevard and would not seek to change the character of the area.

"We are very sensitive to the feelings of the Korean community," Bui said. "We're not putting the center immediately next to their district."

Although no decision will be made on the land until later this year, at least one Garden Grove City Council member is sympathetic to the Korean proposal. Councilman Mark Leyes said building a Vietnamese library near the Korean Business District would not be proper.

"The Koreans have been talking about this for quite a long time, and all of a sudden they hear about a Vietnamese cultural center right in their backyard, and that's what's making them upset," he said.

"They're worried it may crowd them out, and I think they've got a point."

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