Phat-An has undoubtedly changed in the ensuing 33 years. On a wall in the monk’s quarters, a timeline traces the Temple’s development from prayer house to its expansive iteration today. These moves and renovations, which have coincided with waves of refugee and immigrant arrivals, thereby reflect wider changes within Minnesota’s Vietnamese community. The ongoing construction at the back of Phat-An suggests continued transformation. “This is a transition time for the Temple,” confirmed Quy, and alluded to broader changes in the state’s Vietnamese community, as well.
The first wave of refugees began arriving in Minnesota in 1975, consisting of some 5,000 exiles who settled mainly in St. Paul.1 In May of 1976, less than a year later, a number of Vietnamese Buddhists from this group established the Vietnamese Buddhist Association of Minnesota. Vu Khae Khoan served as founding president and the Association operated, for the first year and a half, from his house in Bloomington.
As with many other Vietnamese Buddhist communities throughout the United States, the Association first established a “home temple.” In October of 1977, it bought a residence in St. Paul to use as a prayer house, where Quy began attending three years later.
Between 1975 and 1981, 23,053 Vietnamese arrived in Minnesota as either exiles or boat people.2 The majority who stayed – along with those who joined them through secondary migration – settled in the Twin Cities, and they quickly overwhelmed the small prayer space of the Vietnamese Buddhist Association.3
In 1983, the Association bought a vacant Church of God in Roseville – which consisted of three small rooms – and renovated it into Phat-An Temple. With the move, the Association and its volunteers began holding services every Sunday. Quy recalled that, throughout the 1980s, approximately twenty regular worshipers – herself included – showed up for these weekly Dharma talks. Yet she says that, eventually, even this space proved insufficient. Coinciding with the third wave of refugees between 1988 and 1992, the Association began constructing a main shrine in 1989, expanding the building considerably to accommodate the Temple’s ever-growing membership. Some 400 families helped design, build, and fund this structure, which cost $350,000 and opened in 1991.4
Vann Saroyan Phan, who worked for the Vietnamese Social Services of Minnesota, explained that Minnesota’s Vietnamese community continued to grow substantially throughout the 1990s.5 In particular, a surge of people began arriving to Minnesota in 1995 from other locations in the United States, attracted by job opportunities that the state offered.6 In addition, explained Phan, people who had repatriated to Vietnam from Southeast Asian refugee camps joined these secondary migrants.7 Throughout the 1990s, over 5,000 Vietnamese arrived in Minnesota.8
In response to this continued influx of practitioners, Phat-An Temple expanded once more. Beginning in July of 2011, the Vietnamese Buddhist Association undertook a $2.2 million renovation project – funded by donations, bank loans, and interest-free advances from members of the Temple – to build a new main hall that would better accommodate its members. In addition, the expansion furnished the Temple with an eight-room living space above the main hall, where the recently-arrived Buddhist masters now reside.
Today, the Vietnamese population in Minnesota numbers nearly 20,000.9 Between 150 and 200 members of this community attend weekly Dharma talks at Phat-An Temple, and some 2,000 to 3,000 travel from all corners of Minnesota to attend such holidays as Tết, or Vietnamese New Year, and Buddhist Parents’ Day.
Though the Twin Cities still boast the most concentrated Vietnamese community, people have begun to disperse across the state.10 Within the past decade, families have increasingly moved to suburbs such as Brooklyn Park and Shakopee, or to smaller cities such as Rochester.11 A smaller temple in Blaine, built in 2004, provides services for people living further north and west of the Twin Cities. In addition, the organization Tay Phuong has announced its plans to renovate a family home in Savage, some 25 miles southwest of Roseville, into a third Buddhist monastery and temple.12