Local Commentary

Editorial: Eden Center Opportunity

Last month’s Northern Virginia Gang Task Force raid and spate of arrests targeting an alleged illegal gambling ring operating at the City of Falls Church’s Eden Center, one of the foremost shopping centers catering to Vietnamese-American citizens and businesses in the entire nation, was not an end in itself. It set a series of reactions in motion, especially given the Task Force’s high profile effort to call major attention to their effort through the regional media. It made major news in the area’s dominant daily newspaper and in local TV and radio newscasts.

The first predictable result was a significant drop-off in business, due to fear. The News-Press has confirmed from its own sources that this has been, in fact, the case.

The second is that relations between the Falls Church Police and Vietnamese-American business owners and clients at the Eden Center has deteriorated significantly, despite what was confirmed by News-Press sources as highly professional and diligent policing efforts by especially Officer Joe Carter and others patrolling the center. From generalized fear to alleged specific incidents of intimidation, such factors were described at the Falls Church City Council meeting this Monday.

The third is that elements of the Vietnamese-American community are angry and speaking out. This brought a dozen of them to the City Council meeting Monday, and again in front of City Hall yesterday with protest signs calling for respect and equality. (This factor is new, a departure from traditional Asian cultural mores, we have been told. Whereas in the West, the attitude is that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” – the more you speak out, the more likely you are to get your way – the mode in Asian cultures is traditionally the opposite. They’ve held that it is the nail on a board that sticks up higher than others that will be hammered down the hardest.)

Ironically, it is the same week that the Vietnamese-Americans decided to become “squeaky wheels” that the Washingtonian magazine, considered a credible authority on dining options in our metropolitan area, identified no less than seven restaurants in the Eden Center as among the entire region’s best choices in its “Cheap Eats” issue this month.

There’s no question that the Eden Center continues to represent an enormous opportunity for the City of Falls Church, although, aside from lip service, it is most often treated like an unwanted step child. It is an enigma for a city that is overwhelmingly white and upper-middle class, that was carved out as an independent jurisdiction 60 years ago to insulate it from the “unwashed masses.”

But from the standpoints both of the cultural diversity the City’s vision statements tout and commercial development, the Eden Center is a veritable goldmine.

These recent developments, especially the speaking out by the Vietnamese-American community, gives Falls Church a fresh opportunity to engage its Eden Center, to embrace it, and to learn and gain from the many-tiered treasures it offers.