This week, Garden Grove City Council voted unanimously to ban smoking, arcade games, and nudity in coffeehouses. In a city of 166,332, of which 40-45% are Vietnamese, the ordinance is aimed primarily at Vietnamese coffeehouses.
For those not familiar with Vietnamese coffeehouses, or “cafe om,” they are as close as they come to strip clubs in the conservative Vietnamese culture. The venues are usually dark and seedy. Waitresses deliver coffee to primarily male clienteles in skimpy outfits or lingerie. As these coffeehouses push to compete, the waitresses’ outfits have gotten smaller and racier, close to full nudity in some instances.
Vietnamese coffeehouses have also become a hotbed for gang activity and gambling. Arcade machines are rigged to be gambling machines and the coffeehouses have become meeting spots for loan sharks and gangsters. According to the OC Register, “2010 alone there were three robberies, four incidents of assault with a deadly weapon, seven drug-related incidents, 28 gambling arrests and 39 citations for smoking violations in these coffeehouses.” Many are ran and funded by gang members or their affiliates.
This event brings into light the darker side of Vietnamese American culture, one of gangs, drugs, and sex trafficking. Just last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) busted a $10 million marijuana cultivation ring in Elk Grove, Sacramento, Milpitas, and San Jose. Suspects arrested we all Vietnamese. Last month, Milpitas police arrested 2 Vietnamese men growing close to $1.1 million worth of weed.
Though the new ordinance will make it harder for these activities to take place, I have no doubt nudity, drug, and gambling will pop up somewhere else (Vietnamese people are quite resourceful, even the bad ones, unfortunately). We need to solve the underlying problems: a highly profitable drug industry and immigrant parents that do not have enough time for their kids from working night or double shifts.