A.J. Martin Elementary School is tucked off of a busy stretch of Houston’s Bellaire Boulevard, just west of the city’s Chinatown. The community is decorated with distinctive Vietnamese street signs and lined with iconic mom-and-pop restaurants like Crawfish and Noodles, Pho Binh, and Lee’s Sandwiches. Buddhist temples sit across the boulevard from Catholic-Vietnamese churches and next door to Vietnamese-run health clinics, stores, and agencies. “Little Saigon,” as it is known, represents one of the largest Vietnamese enclaves in the United States.
Following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, thousands of Vietnamese people who sided with the South Vietnamese government fled the war-torn country. Texas’ warm climate, expanding economy, and proximity to the ocean made the state attractive to many Vietnamese refugees seeking asylum and a chance at the American Dream. Many of these early Vietnamese immigrants joined the fishing and shrimping industry along the Gulf Coast. According to census data, by 2000, Harris County reached a population of 55,489 Vietnamese people – making up 28.3% of the total Asian population in the greater Houston area.
Today, “Little Saigon” is a vibrant neighborhood that takes pride in diversity and celebrating Vietnamese customs and traditions, while also honoring Chinese, Korean, Pakistani, and other neighbors.
For Baohan Phi, a sophomore at the University of Houston, this is home. Baohan fondly remembers growing up in this neighborhood and being part of the Alief Independent School District. “It was a neighborhood that really shaped who I am today.”
While Baohan fondly remembers her time at Martin Elementary, she also remembers hearing negative perceptions from those not intimately familiar with the school. People judged her school based on the fact that it is a Title I campus. When Baohan was in fourth grade, the student population was 84% economically disadvantaged and 74% limited English proficiency. While in an underserved community, Baohan found the outside judgments and biases against her school to be false. She experienced a warm, supportive community of teachers and students. “The teachers along the way gave me the inspiration to be where I am today.”
And now she is studying to become a teacher herself. Baohan is an education major at the University of Houston with dreams of teaching high school math.