Vietnamese-American Service Center’s design packed with meaning
Hundreds of people gathered recently in the Board of Supervisors Chamber to revel in an engaging architectural presentation of what will one day open as the Vietnamese-American Service Center.
A range of culturally relevant health and human services will be available when the center opens in summer 2021. Construction on the $50 million, 37,000-square-foot facility starts later this year.
Santa Clara County boasts one of the largest Vietnamese communities in the world outside of their homeland.
But whatever impact the facility may have on community health, people were talking just as much about something even deeper.
In the air was a stirring pride that the larger community recognizes the Vietnamese as worthy of investment and respect.
“There’s been (other) buildings built to provide services for ethnic groups, but I believe this one is so special,” said Jenny Do, a lawyer and community activist. “It feels sometimes like we’ve been invisible. And this is the first time a building has been designed with so much care and effort to recognize the culture, recognize where we’ve been, recognize how we got here, and recognize our presence. So it’s such an honor to have that happen in America.”
‘Very personal undertaking’
Civic-minded San Jose architect and businessman Thang Do designed the Vietnamese-American Service Center. He loaded it with countless references to the land, culture and history of Vietnam. It was not just another project.
“For me, this a very personal undertaking,” the architect said. “I’ve done a lot of work in the Bay Area, and San Jose specifically. I never thought that we’d have a chance to work in my own community on a project that is as impactful, as meaningful, as this one. … It’s the first of its kind” in the United States.
Supervisor Dave Cortese also said it was gratifying to see the project gradually coming to fruition after so many years.
“The Board of Supervisors awhile back put in a multimillion-dollar appropriation to the budget to get the building built,” Cortese said. “That’s now in a reserve, and it looks like the groundbreaking is going to be this fall.”
Long time coming
Cortese suspected the Vietnamese community had special health needs when he was still on the San Jose City Council. Once elected to the Board of Supervisors, he asked the Board to commission a study of the community’s health needs.
He and Supervisor Cindy Chavez worked closely with community groups
after the County issued the study in English (pdf) and Vietnamese (pdf) in 2011. They concluded that the best way to address those needs was with a self-contained facility. The County designed the facility to help overcome cultural and language barriers. These have long kept many Vietnamese from accessing social and behavioral health services, public health programs and ambulatory care.
“One of the things we found,” Chavez said, “is that the Vietnamese community, like many communities, was not accepting mental health care because there was no culturally appropriate way to do that. …
“We also learned that Vietnamese-American women had a much higher rate of uterine cancer. … We have all these clinics around the county and we should really customize the clinic for the Vietnamese community.”
Construction begins in the fall, and the center should open its doors in summer 2021.