Vietnamese business gala draws doers and dreamers together
David Duong, Chariman of the Vietnamese American Business Association and CEO of California Waste Solutions, said the gala highlights the strength and contributions of the Vietnamese community. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    Vietnamese business owners came together Saturday for a glittering gala, with an emphasis on the community’s strength and contributions to its city.

    The Vietnamese American Business Association’s annual gala drew in hundreds of residents for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, with speeches from elected officials across California. The event serves as an opportunity for minority business owners to foster growth and reinforce the community’s importance within San Jose, organizers and attendees said.

    David Duong, VABA Chairman and CEO of California Waste Solutions, said the night represents the community’s strength despite hardship and highlights the potential of the Vietnamese political voice. Throughout the pandemic, small businesses in San Jose, which is home to more than 100,000 Vietnamese Americans, struggled to access government aid. San Jose has the biggest population of Vietnamese residents of any city outside of Vietnam.

    “Vietnamese Americans have immigrated here and have made lots of contributions growing their own community wherever they live,” Duong told San José Spotlight. “If we all can join together, we can build one voice… we’ll be heard by everyone, everywhere and anywhere.”

    The venue, H.L. Peninsula Restaurant in Milpitas, was packed with attendees decked in glittering formal wear. Tables were laden with a rotating array of dishes and a robust flow of chatter filled the air. As the night wore on, speeches gave way to live music and lively conversation.

    California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the event’s keynote speaker, said Vietnamese businesses help create a strong economy across the state.

    “It’s incredible to be in the room with so many doers and dreamers… who support one another,” Bonta said. “Everyone here no matter where you’re from, born in another country like me or born and raised here from multiple generations, you belong here. We make California great.”

    California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the gala’s keynote speaker greeted attendees before his speech. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    A slew of statewide Vietnamese officials turned out including current San Jose Councilmember Bien Doan, Milpitas Councilmembers Hon Lien and Anthony Phan, former San Jose Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen, Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho and Westminster Vice Mayor NamQuan Nguyen. Other officials were also present, including Speaker of the California Assembly Anthony Rendon, San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan, Santa Clara County Supervisors Cindy Chavez and Sylvia Arenas and state Sen. Dave Cortese.

    Thuan Duong, a hairstylist and real estate agent, said he made the drive from San Francisco. He emigrated from Vietnam in 2000 and saw the gala as an opportunity to learn and gather ideas on how to expand his real estate career.

    “My hope is to keep talking, hand out my business card,” Thuan Duong, 46, told San José Spotlight. “This is my first Vietnamese event that I really wanted to come and join.”

    Hundreds turned out for the first in-person Vietnamese American Business Association gala since the pandemic. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    The city’s Vietnamese community is still reeling from the pandemic. Early on, misinformation about the virus spread as residents lacked language-accessible resources. Many Vietnamese businesses, such as nail and hair salon owners, were impacted by shutdown orders and faced heavy restrictions.

    Meanwhile the city lacked Vietnamese representation in the halls of power. The San Jose City Council lost its only Vietnamese member in 2020 after Councilmember David Cohen ousted Lan Diep. Last year, the city elected another Vietnamese councilmember, Bien Doan, which advocates said is a win for representation.

    Attendee Lan Nhi Nguyen said the gala came back strong despite the pandemic. Her friend, Trang Do, is a VABA member and convinced her to come. Nguyen works in banking and Do works in health care.

    “This is important to the Vietnamese community to be able to get together after the pandemic,” Nguyen, 40, told San José Spotlight. “It’s good for us to get together and learn from each other and see how we can make the community a little bit more prosperous.”

    Ho, the first person of color to be elected Sacramento County’s district attorney, said uniting the Vietnamese community is crucial and success also means giving back to others.

    “My father grew up in a small village in Vietnam. I think of my mother, who grew up on a farm tending to water buffaloes,” Ho said. “No matter how far we’ve come, we must go together.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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