Asian Garden Mall to get statue symbolizing Vietnamese-American success since fall of Saigon

James Dinh of Cerritos with the iconic lion statues at the Asian Garden Mall.ANA VENEGAS, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
A five-member selection committee unanimously backed “Of Two Lineages” by James Dinh for the Courage to Rebuild project, a public art display dedicated to Orange County’s Vietnamese community and its achievements in the last 40 years, since the fall of Saigon.“I’m excited to do this,” said Dinh, 47, of Cerritos, who was born in Vietnam and fled Saigon with his parents in 1975. “It’s an honor, but also a great responsibility to do something the community can be proud of.”

The Vietnamese American Cultural Alliance has given Dinh a $100,000 budget, thanks to a fundraising campaign, and will also pay him $40,000 to complete the monument that will sit in the parking lot on Bolsa Avenue. Its completion is scheduled for May.

“Of Two Lineages” was inspired, in part, by a Vietnamese legend about a king from the lowlands in Vietnam who marries a princess from the highlands. They have 100 children but do not get along and ultimately move to their respective kingdoms.

The father takes 50 of the kids back to the lowlands and the mother takes the other 50 to the mountainous highlands.

The 100 children become the ancestors of all of the Vietnamese people.

The welded-steel column in the center of the display represents the highlands and will be composed of 100 facets. The plaza, where there will be seating, represents the lowlands.

The benches’ backrests will likely bear portraits of 100 different Vietnamese-Americans.

Dinh said he would like to work with UC Irvine’s Vietnamese American Oral History Project and use its photographs as models for the portraits. He may help develop a way for visitors to find those people’s stories on a website.

“I’m thrilled for James and am excited that he got the commission,” said Tram Le, the associate director for the Oral History Project, who noted that they had cursory talks about working together when he first applied. “We would love to work with him.”

Selecting an artist for the Courage to Rebuild project has been a months-long endeavor that included an international call for artists to apply. There were 59 applications, narrowed to four designs.

In May, the alliance held a two-day public election when 400 people voted. Even though each design received strong support, said project manager Andrea Harris McGee, Dinh’s design came out on top. The public’s favorite received one vote on a five-member selection committee.

“We had a lot of great artists apply,” Harris McGee said. “But it will be great to work with James. He hit all the points the committee was looking for.”

The column will resemble both a Vietnamese lantern – especially when it glows blue at night – and bamboo, Harris McGee said, symbolizing strength and flexibility.

The drought-tolerant plants in the plaza will provide shade and create a relaxing, Zen-like atmosphere for visitors. Dinh does a lot of public artwork; by trade, he is a landscape architect.

And that blue light that comes on when the sun goes down will “act as a beacon and draw people in,” Harris McGee said.

“I incorporated the legend,” Dinh said about his design, “because it is a founding legend of Vietnam. There is an aspect of building to it.

“I grew up in Cerritos, but I remember as a kid my parents taking me to Little Saigon,” he continued. “I’ve seen it evolve into what it is today.”

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