After nearly a decade of planning and years of construction, Santa Clara County’s Vietnamese-American Service Center is set for a grand opening this fall.
“This has been a community effort,” Supervisor Cindy Chavez said during a recent Lunar New Year virtual celebration of 60 participants. “This center is the reflection of the unyielding commitment in our county to celebrate our diversity. ”
The 30,000 square-foot center at 2410 Senter Road in San Jose, scheduled to finish construction in summer, will be the first county facility to focus on serving the Vietnamese community in the South Bay.
The center’s service model, as well as the building’s architecture, incorporates extensive community feedback.
Interest in a hub serving the Vietnamese population sparked in 2012 after the county’s Public Health Department released a study revealing that Vietnamese residents in the South Bay suffered from significant health disparities. Cultural and language barriers also played a big role in preventing access to the county’s services. The effort was led by then-Supervisor Dave Cortese.
“It reveals the large health disparities and challenges in mental health, health care and physical health, intergenerational conflict and difficulties navigating services,” Chavez said.
San Jose is home to the largest Vietnamese population in any city outside of Vietnam. According to U.S Census data, the community makes up of roughly 11% of San Jose’s population.
After six months of meetings and surveying in 2016, Santa Clara County approved the center’s construction and a $7 million budget to develop a service plan. During the same year, San Jose also established a Vietnamese cultural center at George Shirakawa Senior Center. The city center has offered different services and cultural events over the years.
Meanwhile, the disparities identified by the county in 2012 have continued to play out during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among all Asian groups, Vietnamese have seen significantly more cases of the virus after Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to the county’s data.
In addition, inaccessible and complicated systems to receive relief during the shutdown have left Vietnamese business owners feeling unsupported.
With five categories of programs, the center will provide health and human services, taking culture and language into account, officials say. It also will be a focal point where the community can gather and celebrate significant events, such as Lunar New Year next year.
“So exciting,” a participant said during the Lunar New Year event. “Our elders could not wait to see this.”
The county also gave an explanation on the building’s artistic choice.
“A large yellow letter V frames the view of the main lobby, representing the Viet people,” said Thang Do, CEO of Aedis Architects who designed the building.
Visitors will follow an S shape, mimicking the Vietnam coastline, into the building. The building’s windows will feature images of a bamboo edge, “that protects the Vietnamese villages in the old days,” Do said.
Floors and walls will be donned with images and the color of rice paddy fields. An overhead installment in the main dining hall will resemble the shape of a conical hat — or “nón lá.”
The team is also working on a rooftop installment, which will be an LED-light sculpture featuring three architectures representing different regions in Vietnam: Chùa Một Cột in Hanoi, Chùa Thiên Mụ in Hue, and Lăng Ông in Ho Chi Minh City. Connecting the three landmarks are images of Vietnamese women biking in traditional outfits.
“The image of a woman riding a bicycle represents the resilience of Vietnamese people,” designer Kyungmi Shin said. “And, it also metaphorically represents the movement of the diaspora.”
Many participating in the new year celebration praised the thoughtful design.
“This beautiful building will be a landmark for the Vietnamese community,” Tiffany Ho said. “Thank you Kyungmi for highlighting the huge role of women in our culture and (our) yearning for true peace and healing.”