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Thousands Came Out To See The Dalai Lama In SoCal's Little Saigon

The Dalai Lama addresses addressing supporters earlier this month in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Thousands of worshippers and spectators welcomed the Dalai Lama at Chua Dieu Ngu Buddhist temple in Orange County Saturday. The newly constructed Buddhist temple is located in Westminster, a city thirty miles southeast of downtown in the heart of Southern California's Little Saigon. The L.A. Times reports that an estimated 6,000-plus people turned out to see the 14th Dalai Lama help dedicate the temple on Saturday, with many worshippers lining up as early as 3 a.m.

State Sen. Janet Nguyen told the Orange County Register that the Dalai Lama’s visit to the largely Buddhist area of Little Saigon "was as special as the Pope’s visit would be to Catholics."

The Dalai Lama, who remains in exile from his native Tibet, has a special relationship with California's Vietnamese community, according to the Register, who write that "the man who calls himself a 'simple Buddhist monk' is seen in Little Saigon as a rebel who stood up to a powerful communist regime, a champion for human rights and freedom."

“He’s our master,” Michelle Nguyen, who runs the Spiritual Center, a nondenominational, nonprofit organization in Garden Grove, told the Register. “He speaks the language of compassion, which is a universal bond that connects all of humanity. His message particularly resonates with our community that has struggled with a lot of challenges over the years—fleeing from home, settling in a new country and making a future for our families.”

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Together, Westminster and the neighboring city of Garden Grove are home to the largest Vietnamese enclave outside of Vietnam.

Little Saigon, as the 4-square-mile section of Orange County is known, has been a Vietnamese cultural hub since the late 1970s. The Register reports that more Vietnamese Americans live in Orange County (188,977, as of last year) than any other county in the U.S., and that more Vietnamese Americans are concentrated in Westminster (42 percent of the population) than any other city in the U.S.

"Little Saigon streets are empty today because everyone's here," Uyen Thy Nguyen, who owns a bakery in Westminster, told the L.A. Times on Saturday.

Chua Dieu Ngu's abbot Thich Vien Ly met with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India last year, according to the Register. The Himalayan town of Dharamsala has been the Dalai Lama's home since he was exiled from Tibet in 1959. During the meeting, Ly invited the Dalai Lama to visit Little Saigon and help him dedicate the temple.

"“[The Dalai Lama] immediately smiled, gave me a thumbs-up and said, ‘Yes, I’ll be there,'" Ly told the Register.

And a year later, he was. "We are the same human beings — mentally, emotionally, physically," the Dalai Lama told the assembled crowd Saturday, according to the Times, who report that he gave advice in English and Tibetan, "urging listeners to be kind and compassionate 'starting today.'"

The Dalai Lama is scheduled to address a joint session of the California State Legislature Monday.

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