San Jose expands community use at Viet Heritage Garden, after years of dispute
The imperial gate is among a few completed structures at the Viet Heritage Garden in San Jose. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

After sitting empty for six years due to a lack of funding, a garden honoring San Jose’s vast Vietnamese community sprouts signs of life.

San Jose announced in late December it is expanding a community garden program at the Viet Heritage Garden located at 1499 Roberts Ave.

The Viet Heritage Garden, which spans four acres and is sitting vacant, for years had a small vegetable garden located at the corner of Roberts Avenue and Roberts Place. Now that garden will be expanded to include 45 plots where people can farm their own vegetables and herbs. The actual Viet Heritage Garden will remain empty.

The community garden in District 7 will be the newest addition to a list of 20 community gardens across the city, some of which have provided a place for residents to grow vegetables since 1977. The garden plots at the Viet Heritage Garden vary from 100 to 600 square feet, according to the city.

San Jose will host a ribbon cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. on Jan. 8 to celebrate the new community garden. The event is organized by the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services department and Councilmember Maya Esparza, who represents District 7 where the garden is located.

Esparza didn’t respond to inquiries about the program and event.

Copy of a flyer for the ribbon cutting event on Jan. 8.

Vietnamese residents in San Jose have long waited for the city’s Viet Heritage Garden to come to life.  They have waited for the barren land to be turned into a cultural oasis—one that features mini-replicas of historical Vietnamese landmarks, a reflection pond and a pathway to the community center.

Years of delay and disputes over improper management between the city and the Vietnamese Heritage Society, the nonprofit overseeing the project, have left the garden bare with overgrown grass, shrubs and trash covering the ground. Today it sits empty and unkept.

While the grand vision for the site—proposed by community leaders decades ago with a cost of roughly $3.5 million so far—is yet to blossom, some are excited to see the area being used.

“I think it’s an opportunity for our intergenerational community to connect,” Philip Nguyen, executive director of the Vietnamese American Roundtable, told San José Spotlight. “It’s a physical place we can all take care of.”

The ribbon cutting ceremony has caught some longtime Vietnamese leaders off guard. Many say they didn’t know the community garden was being established.

“I saw the flyer last night from a friend and don’t know much about the ribbon cutting and who is working for this project,” said Van Le, a longtime advocate in the Vietnamese community and a City Council candidate for District 7. “I think the incumbent hopes to win some Viet voters by working and advertising this project just a few more months before (the) June 7 primary election.”

Bien Doan, a San Jose fire captain who is also running for the District 7 seat, often attends the monthly flag raising ceremony at the heritage garden. He said he didn’t know anything about the upcoming community garden event.

“I’m surprised that is happening,” Doan told San José Spotlight.

Nguyen also expressed concerns that the city didn’t gather feedback from residents for a garden located in a supposed iconic landmark for the Vietnamese community.

“There was no sense of (what) the process looked like,” he said, adding it raises a question of who the program is for.

The project is being funded by the city. Residents interested in the community garden can apply by calling 408-793-4165 or by emailing [email protected].

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

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