Vietnamese Community Transforming S.J. Politics
March 23, 2007
(CBS 5) SAN JOSE San Jose City Councilwoman Madison Nguyen easily switches from English, to Vietnamese. She is San Jose’s first Vietnamese-American city council member.
Her victory was fueled heavily by money and support from the Vietnamese community.
“We’re here because we have worked hard and we want not just a seat at the table, but perhaps we want to lead the table,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen, her parents and 9 siblings fled Vietnam 28 years ago when she was 4.
They eventually settled in Modesto. Nguyen and her family harvested fruit, withstanding hard labor and the discrimination that farm owners unleashed on her father.
“And because he didn’t understand English, they would yell at him and they would curse at him,” Nguyen remembered. “I understood it all that because I understand English.”
It’s an immigrant’s tale in a community built by immigrants.
San Jose has the largest Vietnamese American community in the nation. Many have turned hard work into financial success. They have their own shopping centers now, for example. And they’re looking to turn financial clout into political clout.
“The time is right. The population has grown. People’s sophistication of learning the American way, understanding politics has increased dramatically,” said Michael Chang of the Asian Pacific American Leadership Institute.
Vietnamese Americans make up an estimated 10 percent of San Jose’s voters.
And now, a second Vietnamese-American is running for office.
Hon Lien is in a runoff this June against Kansen Chu in San Jose. Like Madison Nguyen, she’s an immigrant.
“This country is a free country, and that opens up the opportunity for everybody,” Lien said.
It’s also an unprecedented opportunity to push issues important to the Vietnamese community.
Nguyen wants to have a part of east San Jose named Vietnam Town, but acknowledges other ethnic groups may feel excluded.
“It’s not about segregation, it’s about inclusiveness and the importance of preserving our culture,” Nguyen said.
And preserving the interests of the community that propelled her to office.
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