New America Media, News Report, Andrew Lam, Nov 10, 2006

Editor’s Note: Vietnamese-Americans are asking why only three out of 18 Vietnamese candidates from California won their races for city, state and national offices. Many see only a brief setback for a community rapidly finding its footing in American politics. Andrew Lam is a NAM editor and author of “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora” (Heyday Books, 2005), which recently won a PEN/Beyond Margins Award.

Eighteen Vietnamese-American candidates ran for office in California this election season, and only three won. All three winners were incumbents. What happened to the growing political clout of the state’s Vietnamese community?

In California, where the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam reside, political participation has long been a nourished dream of Vietnamese. In recent years, Little Saigon in Orange County has successfully ventured into the political realm, electing a handful of Vietnamese city councilmen and a state assemblyman. Their presence has been seen as a sign of the community’s growing maturity.

Many Vietnamese-Americans suspect the stunning defeat this year of so many candidates has much to do with the scandal surrounding Vietnamese-American congressional candidate Tan Nguyen. When 14,000 fliers were mailed from Nguyen’s office to Democratic voters with Spanish surnames in Orange County, telling them if they were immigrants they could face possible imprisonment and deportation if they voted, Nguyen found himself at the center of a political storm.

“Nguyen is a popular last name, and although many of other candidates had nothing to do with Tan Nguyen’s tactics, they share in the blame,” says Thai Tran, a voter in Orange County. “I’m afraid that some Hispanic voters voted to punish the Vietnamese community as a whole.”

Duc Ha, editor of Oneviet.com, says the friendly relationship that Little Saigon worked hard to build with Hispanic communities in California “is now shattered.”

“I’m pretty sure the mailer scandal has some impact on the election of other Vietnamese candidates,” Ha says. Some Hispanic voters quoted by the Los Angeles Times said they were furious about the flier, and that they were motivated in part to go vote because of it.

The 18 Vietnamese ran for positions ranging from school board to city council to mayor.

Tan Nguyen lost to incumbent Loretta Sanchez by 24 points in their race for Congress. John Duong, another Republican, lost by 20 points in his bid for mayor of Irvine.

Re-elected were Van Tran, for state assembly, Lan Quoc Nguyen, for Garden Grove Unified School District, and Andy Quach, for Westminster city council.

Longtime community activist Linh Vu, who called the results terrible for the Vietnamese-American community, notes that, for a Vietnamese-American candidate to win, “the ability to have mainstream voters on your side is a must.” He says many Vietnamese-American candidates still make a common mistake. “Just having a Vietnamese last name without earning yourself a record and reputation as somebody in the community will not give you carte blanche support,” Vu explains. Furthermore, “When many Vietnamese-American candidates are vying for the same position, there will be dilution of voting bloc.”

Yet Vu notes that in San Jose, where Vietnamese-American voters are a formidable voting bloc, both mayoral candidates — Chuck Reed and Cindy Chavez — courted the community aggressively. “The Vietnamese-American community views the two candidates based on their personality and display of loyalty more than on the issues of which they stand.” Reed, a Vietnam vet who understands the political passion of the Vietnamese community, won. Political power is not simply having a Vietnamese face, but access.

In Orange County, incumbent congresswoman Loretta Sanchez has championed human rights in Vietnam, fighting for the release of political prisoners and earning the trust of Vietnamese-Americans over the years.

De Tran, longtime publisher of the now-defunct Viet Merc, in San Jose, says that he’s not disappointed with the election results. Though a personal friend his, John Quoc Duong, who was defeated in the Irvine mayoral race, Tran says Vietnamese-Americans are now part of the American political process.

“I don’t think this is a setback. You keep having to have more candidates every electoral season. Maybe the new groups will be better prepared next time around, more savvy with coalition building,” Tran says. “The Vietnamese community sees the Cuban community in Florida as a model, one with growing political and economic influences and lobbying power. Eventually there’ll be many Vietnamese-American candidates out of Florida, Texas and California.”

Maybe someday, Vietnamese-Americans will even be present in Capitol Hill, Tran says.

What about closer to home?

“Not in the next four years,” according to Tran. “We haven’t arrived yet. We are only beginning to discover the electoral process. But beyond that, it’s quite possible that we’ll have a Vietnamese mayor in San Jose. Why not?”

Why not, indeed. Win or lose, the community born of expulsion from Vietnam three decades ago and formed by refugees and boat people has found sure footing on American soil.

Related stories:

Big Politics in Little Saigon

Vietnamese Media Gauge Fallout From Campaign Scare Letter

User Comments

kawahchan on Nov 10, 2006 at 09:16:10 said:

CALIFORNIA CHALLENGES FOR WTO’s VIETNAM’s ECONOMY – Let us use a coin and a pencil to draw two circles, these two circles are intersected to each other. Circle A is a trade revenue of California’s exports to Vietnam, and Circle B is a trade revenue of Vietnam’s exports to California. These two intersected circles’ partial overlaid area is called the intersection of the Circle A and Circle B. Let use pencil to shade the intersection area, this shaded intersection of Circle A and Circle B is our argument of trade deficit between California and Vietnam. Put in this way to say if we see Circle A is a perfect full circle within the shaded intersection area, that means the Circle B is looked like a semilunar circle missing the shaded intersection area. The full Circle A (California’s) has gained on trade surplus from Vietnam, and the semilunar Circle B (Vietnam’s) is occurred a trade deficit behind California. The argument is how we can make this shaded intersection of Circle A and Circle B can become a more reciprocal overlay to each other. If this year California is trade surplus US$n-million profit from Vietnam, so California will credit US$n-million (or less) tariff-free to Vietnam’s imported-goods for next year’s trade with Vietnam; otherwise Vietnam will giveaway its US$n-million (or less) surplus to credit California’s imports as tariff-free when next year’s trade with California. To credit the US$n-million trade surplus as the tariff-free to the other party’s trade deficit could avoid layoffs and the consumers don’t have to burden on high priced imports and causing inflation. The key to the shaded intersection is the US$n-million tariff-free can create new employment, this is the correct method for California (Oregon, Washington) to partner WTO’s Vietnam in Asia-Pacific region’s free-trade; the foreign currency appreciation is the wrong theory and a wrong method to reduce the high trade deficit (with China). Because Vietnamese-Americans are eligible votable taxpayer-citizens in California state, and the new Vietnam (after 4-decade Vietnam War) is a fast growing country which is America’s West Coast’s long-term interests in Asia-Pacific region. Because we have a European-American immigrant California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who does not belong to Asia-Pacific region, we feel it is much efficient to the Asian-Californians and the California’s private Asian banks & Asian capitals such as the full of Asian cultural United Commerical Bank, Caty Bank, and Citibank are the mainstream bridging to play a major role in Pacific cross-strait’s direct transactions, economy, trades and culture-exchange between Vietnam and America’s West Coast. Asian-Californians realize the Vietnam’s tourism is the major sources of our California-imports consumers in Vietnam local; therefore Asian-Californians must need to invest and build our own “Little Los Angeles (L.A.)”, a California style plaza for hotels, restaurants, clubs, gift shops and branch-offices of California based Asian banks in Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon) in order to compete with the Vietnam’s local “Little Paris” (and French imports sales) if California wants to sell our California-made wines, cheeses, and other imports to the vacationing tourists in Vietnam. In order to win the “Little Los Angeles” plaza approval by the Vietnam’s authorities, we Asian-Californians and California’Asian banks will offer:
1) 92-day bond to assist Vietnam’s economic development or 92-day bailout to help Vietnam to export goods (such as rice, fruits, seafoods, etc.) to California. Such the United Commerical Bank is well experienced and compatible to offer these kinds of Asian operations.
2) Asian-Californians and California based Asian banks will generate capitals to invest the “Little Los Angeles” plaza wherever the Vietnamese government granted land for long-term joint-venture with California.
3) For tourism to have some funs, negotiation of a possibility to build a Paramount’s Great America (to relocate the South Bay’s scene parks to Vietnam opened for all seasons, and N. California can build more new scene parks); and possible a Universal Studio Hollywood (it is much cheapest for Hollywood to make movies at the Vietnam based studios than at the Russia’s; considered the Vietnam’s music entertainment & music DVD are the fast growing industry in Los Angeles and in Vietnam).
This article of “California challenges for WTO’s Vietnam’s economy” is to echo our 55 electoral votes of California economic growth, a fresh start campaign fundraising for BOTH (D) STEVE WESTLY to run for ’08 California U.S. Senator, and (D) Sen. JOHN KERRY to run for ’08 U.S. President. After Thanksgiving’s turkey dinner and Christmas season holidays, the California’s Vietnamese-American community, the winegrowers, Asian bankers will invite (D) STEVE WESTLY and (D) Sen. JOHN KERRY to get together to present a campaign fundraising dinner party to make speech and also discuss our foreign affairs of the West Coast’s California, Oregon, and Washington challenge for the new WTO’s Vietnam’s economy and the Asia-Pacific region’s trades.