‘A historic moment’: Santa Clara County unveils landmark Vietnamese service center
The Vietnamese American Service Center, the first of its kind in the nation, will welcome residents in for the first time Saturday, Oct. 23. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    After nearly a decade of planning, the $33-million Vietnamese American Service Center near the heart of San Jose’s Little Saigon will welcome residents in for the first time Saturday.

    “This is such a huge moment for our community to get a service center that is dedicated to us, especially coming out of COVID,” Christina Johnson, a Vietnamese local organizer, told San José Spotlight. “This is a historic moment.”

    Located near the intersection of Tully and Senter roads, the 37,000 square foot, three-story building will serve as a “one stop shop” in providing a number of health and human services to more than 140,000 people in the Vietnamese community. San Jose has the largest Vietnamese enclave of any U.S. city outside of Vietnam.

    The first of its kind in the nation, the Vietnamese service center will include senior wellness programs and a Valley Medical Center clinic that offers health screenings, mental health and dental services, vaccinations, a childcare center and a pharmacy. The clinic could serve up to 3,000 patients a year, Manager Betty Duong said.

    The project was funded by the county’s general fund.

    The building will also provide meeting rooms and open office spaces with computers for community uses. The center will also be a hub for a number of resources from the county’s community partners.

    “To have an institutional space with the county is pretty monumental,” Philip Nguyen, executive director of Vietnamese American Roundtable, told San José Spotlight. “I think it will open up a lot of doors for us to re-engage with the community, especially after a year and a half of isolation.”

    The center’s Manager Betty Duong said parents can drop off their kids at a childcare room at the center during their appointment at the clinic. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    The center’s service model, as well as the building’s architecture, incorporates extensive community feedback, officials said.

    Supervisor Cindy Chavez and then-Supervisor Dave Cortese led the efforts to build the project, which started in 2013. The center broke ground in November 2019 to overwhelming support from the community.

    The ribbon cutting ceremony, hosted by the county, is set for Oct. 23 from noon to 5 p.m. The county is expecting hundreds of people to show up in celebration of a major milestone.

    “This investment is critical to the health and well being of the community,” Chavez told San José Spotlight, adding that the services offered at the center were picked by the community. “What’s impactful to me is to see the fruition of the hopes and aspirations of the community.”

    The center, located at 2410 Senter Road in East San Jose, will open with limited services Nov. 22. The goal is to have a grand opening by Lunar New Year in February 2022.

    Supervisor Cindy Chavez and Sen. Dave Cortese led the efforts in building the service center that costs $50 million and takes nearly a decade to finish. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    A much-needed project 

    The service center opens its doors more than 40 years after the first wave of Vietnamese refugees came to the U.S. It will cater to the needs of the community and help address the health care disparities that were especially prevalent during COVID.

    “(This center) will deliver to the Vietnamese American community here the same services that everyone else wants, but in a very specific way based on their needs, educational services, safety net services, health services, even services with cancer screening,” Sen. Cortese said Monday.

    Those in the Vietnamese community have significant needs for health care and mental health services, according to a 2012 study on the Vietnamese community in Santa Clara County. Roughly 40% of Vietnamese adults in the county reported that their emotions interfered with their daily activities in 2011. Vietnamese adults are also more likely to get—and die from—chronic and infectious illnesses, such as tuberculosis, hepatitis B, and liver, lung and cervical cancer.

    Despite these needs, more than a quarter of the Vietnamese population in Santa Clara County don’t have health insurance. Nearly one in six adults couldn’t see a doctor in 2011 because of costs, the study found. And Vietnamese residents last year had the highest COVID-19 cases among Asian Americans locally as they grappled with a lack of information and resources.

    Officials hope programs like health education, screenings and referral services will fill in the persistent health care gaps in the community.

    The center’s Manager Betty Duong and Supervisor Cindy Chavez said the community will get a tour of the center during the ribbon-cutting event. The county plans for a soft opening in late November. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    The center is also working with groups like Vietnamese American Roundtable to host workshops on labor rights, Nguyen said.

    Seven out of 10 Vietnamese residents in the county were born in Vietnam before becoming naturalized citizens, the study noted. More than half of them couldn’t speak English fluently.

    Many in the community have faced limited job options and economic opportunities, and a big portion of the population struggles with food and housing security. Nearly one in ten Vietnamese families lived in poverty between 2007 and 2009—a much higher rate than other families in the county, according to the study.

    Advocates and residents say the project also holds significant cultural values for the community.

    “It’s a reminder that we belong here,” Johnson said, especially after the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes early this year.

    While the programs and services are designed to serve the Vietnamese community, they will be available to all residents. Some services will be provided in Spanish.

    The center features an art installation that mimics the shape of a Vietnamese iconic conical hat. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    The building features many images and symbols from the Vietnamese culture, including a large yellow letter V representing Vietnamese people in the main lobby, images of a bamboo edge and rice paddy fields, and an overhead art installation that resembles the shape of a Vietnamese iconic conical hat.

    Its rooftop will also be adorned by an LED-light sculpture featuring architectures representing different regions in Vietnam.

    Click here for more information about the ribbon-cutting event.

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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