Little Saigon supporter eyes council seat

Candidate fled Vietnam after communists took over

The same day Vancouver city council voted to designate part of Kingsway as Little Saigon, one of the supporters threw his hat into the ring for the Nov. 19 civic election.

Marc Nguyen, whose name will appear on the ballot as Hoang Tan Nguyen, filed his nomination paper Thursday to run as an independent for city council. The 10-day nomination period opened Tuesday.

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"I'm not a politician, I've never learned to be a politician," said Nguyen, who is running as an independent. "[I want] to help people a little bit, all the people in the community here, newcomers to Canada, they don't know much about this country."

Nguyen said immigrants need more language training and orientation to get better jobs in Canada.

Nguyen said he was trained as a pilot by the United States Air Force and fled his homeland after the communist North Vietnamese took over South Vietnam in 1975. Nguyen arrived as a refugee in Edmonton in 1978 and settled in Vancouver a decade later. The former jewelry store owner is now a real estate and mortgage broker. If elected, it is believed he would be the first Vietnamese-Canadian city councillor in Vancouver history.

The Vancouver metropolitan area, according to the 2006 census, counts 33,470 people from Southeast Asia, which includes Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia. The census estimated 13,140 people in Vancouver speak Vietnamese as their at-home language, which is twice that of French.

A large portion of Vancouver's Vietnamese community is concentrated in the Renfrew-Collingwood, Norquay and Mount Pleasant neighbourhoods. The Little Saigon area on Kingsway between Nanaimo and Fraser streets includes grocery stores, restaurants, cafes and offices for doctors and lawyers catering to the Vietnamese community, which recently formed a business association.

The Little Saigon designation was sponsored by Vision Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang and Coun. Andrea Reimer and unanimously supported by the rest of council.

Vancouver also has a Little India, Little Italy, Japantown and Chinatown. All have fluctuated as ethnic communities grew or expanded elsewhere in the region.

Alyssa Tran, who works at the Vietnam Magazine store off Kingsway, estimates that there are between 200 and 300 businesses in Vancouver's Little Saigon. She said it's a place for the community to gather and remember its heritage. "That's why Little Saigon is important to us," Tran said. "We're happy that Little Saigon has a legal name in Vancouver, the first place to get a Little Saigon for Vietnamese-Canadians."

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