A place of their own.
That was the vision that Tim Thien Do, a Sacramento businessman, had for members of the Vietnamese community.
"It's for our younger generation," said Do, who is also the founder and president of Vietnamese American Community of Sacramento.
"We lost our country and our freedom, so we came here. We want to take our culture of the past and pass it to them."
Sunday, Do's dream came true with the opening of the 15,000-square-foot Vietnamese Community Center of Sacramento at 6270 Elder Creek Road, which his family funded. The estimated $2 million project, with three buildings on 3 acres of land, took 2 1/2 years to complete.
"This is a very special day," said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, shortly after the opening ceremony.
"It represents the establishment of a place where the Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans can come and learn about their heritage. Sacramento is a unique place in terms of its diversity. This creates an opportunity for the Vietnamese to share their culture with the community," he said.
More than 400 people packed the auditorium to watch dancers, singers and martial artists perform on the stage. Many of the attendees helped themselves to the chow mein, egg rolls, roast pork, chicken wings and watermelon placed on tables in the back of the 6,000-square-foot room.
The community center, not far from Little Saigon on Stockton Boulevard, will be the new home for the the Vietnamese language and culture school run by the Vietnamese Parent Teacher Association – Lac Hong Center.
"It means a lot to us," Thuy Pham, president of the association, said of the new space. "We can have the freedom to decorate the classrooms the way we want. Because of the fence, we also don't have to worry about the security of the students."
In the past, the association had rented 10 classrooms in the Elk Grove school district for the Vietnamese school at a cost of $6,000 to $7,000 a year.
With the move to the community center and its seven small classrooms in two smaller buildings, Pham hopes to expand enrollment to 500 students, up from 180, and to bring Vietnamese language classes for non-Vietnamese students.
Angel Duong, 17, of Elk Grove graduated from the Vietnamese school last year. On Sunday, she was at the new center to perform with her dance group. She peeked at the classrooms where she said she hopes to teach this fall.
"I like it," she said. "It's big enough for little kids to have activities. Students can feel like this is a second home. There's (a) game room and a library, just like an American school."
Tido Hoang, a member of the organizing committee for the community center, said there are plans to have volunteers hold workshops on taxes, finances, naturalization, and health issues at the community center.
"We want to be more civic-minded," he said. "We want to build a bridge between the first and second generation in our community."
He estimates there are tens of thousands of Vietnamese living in the greater Sacramento area who can benefit from the center. Dickinson has scheduled a workshop on the Affordable Care Act at the community center on July 23.
On the second floor of the main building, part of the space was cordoned off for five pingpong tables. That's where Albert Lim, 60, of Sacramento hopes to grow the membership of the Sacramento Table Tennis Club.
"We currently have 50 members, but who knows how many we would have if we open this in the daytime for players," he said.
Even though there hasn't been much programming planned for the community center, its existence already is drawing attention from other Vietnamese groups in California.
Members of the Vietnamese language press as well as representatives of different groups from San Francisco, San Jose, and Orange County met with Do on Sunday in the center's small library.
"Throughout California, we never had an independent Vietnamese community center," said Barry Hung Do, president of the Little Saigon San Jose Foundation.
"In most places, we might have just an office."
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Call The Bee's Tillie Fong, (916) 321-1006.