Her face was puffy and pale; she was shivering and weak. An East San Jose flood victim, she was in desperate need of a quiet place where she could complete the four times daily home-dialysis treatments she needs to stay alive. She did not want to go to the hospital to burden them with a task she had grown accustomed to handling on her own. And surrounded by suffering and overwhelming need, when she reluctantly asked volunteers at the flood scene for help, they had brushed her aside.
San Jose’s Vietnamese-Americans, many of them refugees and among the city’s poorest, have been devastated by the recent flooding. Councilman Tam Nguyen estimates that 85 percent of the 400 flood victims in his east-side District 7 are, like himself, Vietnamese.
As of Feb. 28, neighborhoods with more than 4,000 homes and apartments have been evacuated, according the City of San Jose Flood Operations Center. Twelve percent, or 480, have been cleared for “restricted reentry:” victims can return but doing so contains risk. So far, property damage has been assessed at $75 million. Of course, as in any tragedy, the human costs are incalculable.
In the 10 days since the flood brought its unwelcome and contaminated waters to people’s doorsteps and into their homes, Chopsticks Alley contributors and I have spent countless hours at the flood scene. We’ve distributed food and helped our Vietnamese brothers and sisters tell volunteers their names and needs and former addresses. The scenes at the local shelter and makeshift emergency center at the Shirakawa Vietnamese Community Center have made my heart heavy.
The part that pains me most is the miscommunication and frustration emanating from the city staff, state workers and volunteers, many of whom clearly have good intentions. They speak down to my people; they speak loud to my people; and they treat them like discards simply looking for a handout. I watch my people line up patiently, awaiting their turn. There are no haughty demands, no anguished outbursts, just simple obedience as they traipse from one table to the next adding their names to lists and lists. No one really has any solutions or answers for them. I stand up for them whenever I can, but mostly I bite my tongue; now is not the time to fight or cause scenes.
But the tragedy is overwhelming. While translating at the local shelter and the makeshift emergency center at the Shirakawa Vietnamese Community Center, I witnessed first-hand the horrible conditions many people are enduring: nearly a dozen evacuees living in a one-bedroom apartment sleeping on the floor lined up like sardines; a grandmother too embarrassed to ask for clean undergarments wearing dirty clothes for three days before confessing to a volunteer her personal needs; she also was concerned about her own 75-year-old mother, who needs help to take a daily bath; a mother of two worried that her husband will lose his $18 an hour job, the family’s sole income. Without a car, he’s had to get rides wherever he can. One elderly lady has taken dozens of victims into her one-bedroom apartment, despite being a flood victim herself and without electricity.
Many were already living below the poverty line, paycheck to paycheck. Not only have they been made homeless, they have lost all of their possessions including the cars and trucks that carried them to work. To ask them to come up with the money to purchase another vehicle or to rent a new place might as well be to ask them to fly to the moon. Some are roommates, and in a spirit of solidarity (and a habit brought from Vietnam) they are applying for help as if they were a family, hoping to make the process simpler for the aid agencies and government. In Vietnam, everyone living in the same household registers themselves in a “household book.” If you reside in the same home, you can apply for everything together. They bring this practice with them to America. They do not understand our system does not work this way. (Photo from https://www.worldhab.com/flooding-in-san-jose-area/
The lady who needed dialysis also thought to apply for help with her housemates until I explained that it was not in her best interest. She reluctantly agreed and apologized to her friends for splitting her application from theirs. I took her to the Regional Hospital and found a Vietnamese nurse to care for her. I hope she found the help she needed.
The city has opened two shelters to accommodate displaced residents, but only a fraction of the affected Vietnamese people are taking advantage. In Vietnamese culture, shame burdens victims in situations such as these. The majority do not see themselves as having the privilege to ask for and get help. They do not believe that after all the years of working and paying taxes in the United States that they have the right to receive aid, even in emergency situations. On the night of Feb. 27, only 130 people stayed in the two emergency shelters the city has set up. Where did the remaining hundreds go? In Vietnamese culture, neighbors, friends and relatives harbor those in need. The people in the shelters would seem to have no one else to turn. The problem is that if people don’t register as flood victims, the city and other government agencies won’t know they exist, and they will be overlooked.
The County of Santa Clara and City of San Jose officially announced a State of Emergency after a week. The need is great, yet the help is painfully slow. What will happen to my people next I do not know.
Chopsticks Alley has partnered up with Sabor Del Valle and San Jose Rotary Foundation to raise funds for the victims in the Rock Springs area. To donate click here:
The following are resources to help Flood Victims:
For shelter, the Seven Trees Community Center, 3590 Cas Dr, San Jose, CA 95111 is currently open 24/7. They have shelter, clothing, food, and other necessities.
For help with all other services and resources, all participating government agencies and non-profit organizations are stationing at Local Assistance Center (LAC): 2072 Lucretia Ave, San Jose, CA 95122. Everyday from 10am to 8pm, now until this Saturday.
For transportation to the shelter or the assistance center: Use Yellow Cab at 408-777- 7777 and give them account #1421 for free rides.
Our elected officials and non-profit organizations have been outstanding in leading the relief efforts. If you are looking to give help, please go through the current processes first, that way we can maximize our time and resources.
Volunteering central hub: helpindisaster.com
For monetary donation, the Mayor has set up a fund to be distributed where it is most needed: www.siliconvalleycf.org/sjflood
For volunteering with clean up, the current hub is at History Park at Kelley Park, 600 Phelan Ave, San Jose CA 95112, from 9:30am to 2:00pm. This location will change in a few days, o check with Tam Nguyen Council District 7 office if you are thinking of coming out this weekend: 408-535-4907
For volunteering with everything else: translation, assistance, paperwork, outreaching, come to Local Assistance Center (LAC): 2072 Lucretia Ave, San Jose, CA 95122. Everyday from 10am to 8pm, now until Wednesday. Vietnamese and Spanish speakers are particularly needed.
For organizing efforts, please contact Cynthia Shaw with Red Cross 408-666- 6857 or Candace Le with Mayor’s Office 408-535- 4823.
For the most updated information:
VIVO - Vietnamese Voluntary Foundation is doing excellent works in organizing Vietnamese focused relief efforts, call VIVO at 1-855- 843-8112 or Quyen Mai to help and get helped.
Pease tell ALL VICTIMS AND VOLUNTEERS to come to Local Assistance Center: 2072 Lucretia Ave, San Jose, CA 95122. Everyday.
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Trami Nguyen Cron
Founder, Chief Editor
Trami is the founder of Chopsticks Alley and author of VietnamEazy, a novel about Mothers, Daughters and Food. She is passionate about the emergence of the Young Vietnamese culture in America. As a Vietnamese-American, she created Chopsticks Alley as a platform for the younger Vietnamese generation to have a space to express their point of views about news, business, art, food, and culture. She hopes this platform will also help to unite the Vietnamese Community all over the world.