Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon at HCC

Houston is home to more than sixty-thousand people of Vietnamese descent, the third largest Vietnamese community in the country. That is just one reason why a Smithsonian exhibit about the Vietnamese experience in America is making a stop in Houston. Rod Rice reports.

The exhibit is called "Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon".  It will be on display through November at Houston Community College at 31-hundred Main Street. 

"It depicts the journey of Vietnamese immigrants from 19-75 to the United States."

HCC's Gigi Do says HCC is an appropriate local for the exhibit because it's in the neighborhood where the first Vietnamese settled in Houston in 19-75. And HCC has an affiliate campus in Ho Chi Minh City called Saigon Technical Institute.

Vietnamese came the U.S. in two waves, those who fled South Vietnam as the country fell in 19-75 and those in the years that followed who risked their lives to flee Vietnam in boats.

Gigi Do came to the U.S. just before what she calls the chaos began in April of '75.

"I was a child, along with my sister, and one day my parents said let's pack up and go, we're going on a little vacation.  We were never told where we were going, but something was strange when our mother start sewing our birth certificates on the seems of our clothes."

Do says her mother knew what could happen if the family became separated. A relative fleeing South Vietnam had been separated from her young daughter who was never seen again.

The words and images of the traveling exhibit also show the triumphs and struggles of the refugees as they found homes in neighborhoods like those in Houston.  Do says her father went from being an officer in the South Vietnamese Air Force to a janitor in the U.S..

"And some can say you worked with your dad from age eight to 18 as a janitor and never been to a prom, never been to a football game throughout your high school years. And I say, but I got to go to University of Washington and obtain my degree and that would never happen if I'd been left behind in Vietnam."

Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon tells the story of how many Vietnamese like Gigi Do fled their homeland and have found a new life as Americans while not forgetting their roots.

"I have the best of both worlds. I can go into Vietnam and blend in as a Vietnamese, but being here, I just feel that I can't live without my American friends, needs and 24-hour drug store."

Click here for more on Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon.

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Rod Rice

Local Anchor, Morning Edition

Rod Rice became fascinated with radio at an early age, while sitting on his Grandfather’s lap listening to his "programs" on the big Emerson Radio...