Orlando’s reputation as a melting pot cannot be disputed. With millions of people flooding the area during the tourism season, it’s easy to forget the local diversity which has already thrived here for many years. One area that is a shining example of Central Florida’s diverse culture is the area near Mills and 50 commonly known as “Little Vietnam”, or “Little Saigon.” The area is currently the subject of a week long 90.7 WMFE special series that can be viewed here.
During an interview with Kim Chau, a longtime resident of the area, she tells of a tour she gave to Walt Disney Imagineers around the area. She says they were acquiring “ideas” for their theme parks. Coincidental, since the area’s Mills 50 project has aimed to renovate and re-package Orlando’s traditionally artistic district. As part of the project’s goals, focus was placed on the Asian businesses, highlighting them and incorporating them into a sort of “Chinatown.” Joanne Grant, executive director of the Mills 50 initiative cites resistance from some businesses in the area, claiming they do not want to be clumped into one big generic “Chinatown.” And why should they? If the area’s unique feel and culture were created out of the ashes of war and forged through a collective longing for home, morphing the area into something it’s not would be undoing that organic social process.
It’s areas like these that are at a risk of being lost to a generic idea of development, losing all sense of originality. Culture has a hard time in Orlando, and it’s in the Downtown scene that has just barely kept it alive all these years. Little Saigon is an example of people coming together and creating something familiar, yet exotic to all outside it’s world. I would hate for this area to be demonized in an effort to force development. As we’ve seen with 192, all it takes is enough diversity, a collective fear towards foreign culture, and a few yellow journalism wizards in the pockets of the Mouse to destroy an area. The story of Colonialtown’s thriving Vietnamese town should serve as a lesson for us here in Kissimmee on how to come together and create a scene that benefits us all.
Photo credit goes to Jason Snyder https://www.flickr.com/photos/retrojason/