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A man walks along El Cajon Boulevard in Little Saigon, a Vietnamese neighborhood in San Diego. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Nam Nguyen and jean-huy tran are the respective vice president and president of Viet Vote, a community group that provides voter education and civic engagement for the Vietnamese community in San Diego. 

After a decade and a new census, San Diego is changing the lines of its city districts. Now, more than ever, neighborhoods need to stand united in voicing their values, priorities and the needs for representation to their elected officials. When they are separated and divided, their collective power is diluted and their community interests will continue to be ignored.

Little Saigon is deeply rooted in City Heights. To attempt to carve it away would be repeating the harmful actions of the past. The City Heights we know today didn’t exist before. It was fractured into three distinct districts. Being represented by three different City Council members, the community could never fully advocate for their needs and resources. But then, 10 years ago, the community members in City Heights came together and pushed for their area to be united once and for all. In those 10 years, the area has risen to prominence as a region of growth, potential and opportunity for its residents and the city.

What makes City Heights so unique from other parts of San Diego is our community identity tied to an irreplaceable shared diversity, including our refugee and immigrant communities. This forms the love we have for our resilient neighborhoods south of Interstate 8. This is the foundation of the success stories of thousands who found a place in San Diego and made a home in City Heights. The Vietnamese refugees are a part of this diversity. From the first residents who settled in San Diego after leaving the refugee sites just north in Camp Pendleton to having a highway sign guiding tourists to experience Vietnamese culture down El Cajon Boulevard, Little Saigon is forged into the streets of City Heights.

To take Little Saigon away from City Heights in a separate City Council district would only serve to sideline both Little Saigon and City Heights. Without the collective voice of a neighborhood that speaks a dozen languages, the neighborhood streets will continue to be a lower priority. The schools will be a lower priority. Divided, the residents of City Heights will be forced to continue to be silent minorities. In a time when the nation, let alone its eighth largest city, can no longer be allowed to ignore its communities of color, San Diego cannot redistrict itself by drawing a red line between the Vietnamese community of Little Saigon and the City Heights community it calls home.

Our group, Viet Vote, believes in building our community power. Beginning three years ago with the Vietnamese community here in City Heights, our volunteer members engaged with residents throughout the neighborhood. We provided voter education because we know it is one of the best ways to build civic power, which builds to the stronger presence of our community with our elected officials. We also actively engaged with our community members to educate them about the importance of the census last year to ensure that our community responded to get counted. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we distributed information on relief and vaccination, in both English and Vietnamese, to be the most beneficial for all for our community members. Each of these steps is how our people can come together as a community and build the power to make real, impactful, and lasting change.

But that power cannot be built if its foundations are torn apart every 10 years. The bonds between the leaders, organizations and neighbors of Little Saigon and City Heights, formed over the decades, must be fostered through the unity of political representation. We, of Viet Vote, demand that any redistricting efforts look past the lines of streets and population numbers. We demand that the redistricting commission recognize Little Saigon’s solidarity with City Heights and our history with each other by promising our continued representation in the same City Council district.

While redistricting is heavily focused on a map, it should not be limited to that. For underserved communities like the Vietnamese and other refugees and immigrants in City Heights, the fight for resources for our communities will continue in the years to come. In the 2014 non-presidential election, only 18 percent of the Vietnamese registered voters voted. In the 2018 non-presidential election, two years after Viet Vote was formed, this number was dramatically improved to 34 percent. This is promising as non-presidential elections have lower turn-out than presidential elections, but this number is not enough if we are to build community power. After the redistricting process, we will need to continue to engage with our community members to ensure that our voices will be heard beyond this map.

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