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LITTLE SAIGON For a time in

“We were thrilled to hear from this group,” Cooper-Hart says. “They were already extremely well organized when they reached out. They’d secured their 501(c)3 status and worked with the Center for Nonprofits. We’ve discussed what the next step will be for the Asian District, because every district has a different first step.”

the 1990s and 2000s, the Asian community around NW 23rd and Classen Boulevard discussed how best to brand their district. Since the overwhelming majority of refugee families had been Vietnamese, “Little Saigon” was a popular choice. Many OKC residents have memories of Little Saigon signage along Classen – not because that was the name of THE NEXT GENERATION Thuan the district, but because the center in Nguyen owns THN Insurance which Lido operates used to be called Solutions, with his office located the Little Saigon Center. Although it in the Asian District, and is one of was common to refer to the district the young business owners leading that way, the name did not win out the call for more development. A for the district, thanks in large part first-generation immigrant – he to Tri Luong. was a toddler when his family “My father wanted to put up signage arrived in OKC in 1979 – Thuan that would identify our district,” Ba helped found the Asian District Luong says. “He made the push to be Cultural Association, the 501(c)3 more inclusive, to be an Asian disthat Cooper-Hart referenced. trict, not a Vietnamese district.” The organization has a seven-memIn fact, community leaders had Further success should be in the district’s future. ber board, all of whom are business talked about adding a physical gate owners inside and outside the district. The board is a mixture that would span Classen, similar to projects in well-known of first- and second-generation immigrants, and they see Chinatowns and Koreatowns around the country. Engineering themselves as something of a bridge generation. Many of the was the problem, though. second-generation children were born within a few years of “Classen is six lanes plus a median,” Luong says. “The gate arriving, so the children of the first generation are close to would have collapsed.” their age. Their experiences are very similar, and they are all Signage was the obvious choice, and “Asian District” evenin their 30s and 40s now, ready to extend the reach of the tually won out as the preferred designation. The city council community outside the boundaries of the district. made it official in 2005. “We formed the association as a way to preserve our traditions, but also to entice economic development into the OFFICIAL STATUS The Asian District is smaller than most district,” Thuan says. “We would like to see more diverse locals realize. Officially, it runs from NW 23rd to NW 30th economic development projects, as well as more real estate streets, and from Western to McKinley avenues. That means development.” popular and recognizable spots are outside the district, includPhuong Vu, a Realtor and board member, said his genering Pho Lien Hoa and Vietnamese Public Radio. In practice, ation – the second – is tasked with carrying forward a torch locals treat everything from NW 22nd to NW 36th as the distheir parents are passing along. “Asian culture is different with trict, so unofficially, it includes Café Kacao, Lee’s Sandwiches parenting,” Phuong says. “Your parents aren’t your buddies; it’s and Memorial Park. ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir,’ and many of our parents worked multiple A general obligation bond in 2007 paid for the streetscape, jobs after they came here. We are respectful of their traditions including the Asian District markers, but the district operates and their ways of doing things.” independently of partnerships such as Downtown OKC. Jill Ba Luong addresses this issue with an example drawn from DeLozier, vice president of the Downtown OKC Partnership, Super Cao Nguyen. “When we first expanded, it was tough. We said the original Business Improvement District for downtown had an identity crisis. I started adding products slowly from difdistricts was created in 2000. Since, the BID has been revised ferent countries; my father had always run an Asian market, but to include Film Row and Midtown, but she said more expanI was getting requests from other places. Once I added things sion is unlikely. and the store didn’t fail, my father accepted the changes. We “We already have one of the largest and most complicated now have products from more than 60 countries of origin.” BIDs in the country,” she says, but adds, “that doesn’t stop Diversity is a theme that kept coming up in conversations other districts from becoming their own BID.” with business owners in the district. The younger generation In fact, a coalition of young business leaders in the Asian is ready to embrace a more diverse Asian District, including District has approached Kim Cooper-Hart, who oversees the city of Oklahoma City’s Commercial District Revitalizabusinesses such as Café Kacao, Classen Coffee Company and tion Program, about more intentional development plans other non-Asian-owned businesses that bring economic health for the area. and vitality to the district and the Asian community overall.

SEPTEMBER 2018 405 MAGAZINE

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Profile for 405 Magazine

405 Magazine September 2018  

405 Magazine is the definitive city and lifestyle magazine of central Oklahoma, featuring people, places, events, dining and culture.

405 Magazine September 2018  

405 Magazine is the definitive city and lifestyle magazine of central Oklahoma, featuring people, places, events, dining and culture.

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