March 27, 2008
Vietnam echoes in a San Jose feud
SAN JOSE — The protesters gathered outside City Hall, marking another day of anger. They waved South Vietnamese flags, yelled into bullhorns and held signs saying “No Democracy in San Jose.” Down the street, a fellow activist was on Day 19 of his hunger strike.
Eighteen floors above the spectacle, Madison Nguyen attended to city business. From her office, the chants of “Down with Madison” or the placards with a slash drawn across her smiling face couldn’t be seen or heard. But the repercussions can be felt everywhere in San Jose’s Vietnamese community.
Only months earlier, Nguyen was embraced as the beloved daughter of the ethnic community. Now, some constituents are calling her a traitor and communist sympathizer.
“My only intent was to bring a positive image to the Vietnamese,” said Nguyen, 33. “I didn’t know I was opening up a big can of worms.”
San Jose’s Vietnamese community has been torn for more than eight months over what to name the city’s first Vietnamese shopping district, a decision that might seem mundane if not for the fact that it cuts to the deepest sensibilities in one of the country’s largest Vietnamese American communities.
Nguyen’s popularity began to plunge when she suggested the area be named Saigon Business District rather than Little Saigon, a name that to many here is a powerful symbol of defiance to the Vietnamese communist regime and one that would link them arm and arm with other Vietnamese enclaves that have adopted the name.
The councilwoman’s position — a compromise selected from half a dozen suggestions — was taken as an insult.
The street protests that followed underscored again that the rules of politics are different for a Vietnamese American politician, who must navigate the lingering emotions of a community still defined by the Vietnam War.
Even business owners, reporters, and pop singers carefully tiptoe around inferences and innuendo that can cast a person as being soft on communism.
A misstep can launch vocal protests and accusations; reputations can be tarnished. Most bow to the pressure.
Madison Nguyen, however, has played her hand differently. She said she was willing to risk votes and upset constituents to exert her political independence.
It’s a risky gambit in places such as San Jose and Orange County, where Vietnamese American politicians rely on the ethnic community as their base and where the mood is colored by the loudest voices.
Like many of her critics, Nguyen escaped Vietnam in the late 1970s. She was 4.
Her family eventually migrated to Modesto, where Nguyen and her eight siblings helped her parents pick cherries and apricots after school. While attending UC Santa Cruz, Nguyen skipped classes to protest with farm workers for higher wages.
Nguyen became a history major and changed her name from Phuong to Madison to honor former president James Madison.
She started a doctoral program studying the evolution of the Vietnamese American community. She won a seat on the Franklin-McKinley school board in San Jose and became the city’s first Vietnamese American councilwoman in 2005.
Her eagerness to be independent and to strike compromises has rubbed some the wrong way.
She believes the Vietnamese community is going through “growing pains” and at times lacks an understanding of how local government works, but some see Nguyen as young, immature, failing to be deferential.
“I feel that when [Vietnamese] people look at me, they feel that I am their daughter instead of an elected official,” she said.
October 21, 2007
|By Pamela Manson
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune
|Article Last Updated:10/18/2007 05:12:56 PM MDT|
|Posted: 5:15 PM- A West Valley City company that prepared immigration petitions for U.S. citizens and their Vietnamese sweethearts had some unusual requirements for its clients.
In addition to forking over $30,000, the couples were obliged to write at least two letters a month to each other and send post cards on U.S. and Vietnamese holidays, according to federal prosecutors.
“Often mail each other on a weekly basis. Write at length and express love with each other,” Multi-Services Office allegedly said in an addendum to its contract.
The clients – who were petitioning immigration authorities to allow the Vietnamese spouses or fiances to live in the United States – also were instructed to talk on the phone several times a month, send gifts engraved with both parties’ names and exchange photographs.
An indictment issued last year against two dozen defendants claimed these “relationships” were all a scam designed to bring undocumented foreign nationals into the country. Authorities allege that Vietnamese citizens were paying $30,000 to marry Utahns in the hope of being allowed to live in the United States.
On Thursday, a man described by the U.S. Attorney’s Office as one of the ringleaders was sentenced to 15 months in prison.
Henry Ngoc Nguyen, operator of Multi-Services Office, which also has an office in Ho Chi Minh City, earlier had pleaded guilty to six counts of aiding and abetting the illegal entry of people into the United States. The 46-year-old, a naturalized U.S. citizen, apologized for his actions.
“I have shamed my family name,” Nguyen told U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell. “I will do the right things in my life from now on.”
Prosecutors say recruiters got citizens to participate in the scam and to travel to Vietnam to bolster the claim that the marriages were legitimate. They say document preparers, such as Nguyen, filled out the immigration paperwork and submitted love letters and photographs as supporting documents.
About 20 of the defendants have been sentenced, all but two of them to probation or home confinement. Nguyen has received the harshest punishment so far and another defendant received a six-month term.
Defense attorney Richard Mauro said Nguyen, who fled Vietnam on a small fishing boat in 1979, felt he was giving others the opportunity for a better life. He said there is no evidence that his client’s activities undermined national security.
However, Dustin Pead, an assistant U.S. attorney, said Nguyen’s actions were not altruistic, but an abuse of the immigration process.
More than five dozen U.S. citizens were charged separately this fall with misdemeanors for allegedly lying when they said an immigrant was their bona fide spouse or fiance. They face up to six months in jail if convicted.
July 12, 2006
NEW ORLEANS, May 8 (UPI) — Hundreds of Vietnamese-American families in New Orleans fear their neighborhood is about to be hit by Hurricane Katrina again — this time by its debris.
Some 7.2 million tons of hurricane debris needs to be dumped but the Chef Menteur landfill can only accept 2.6 million tons.
More than a thousand Vietnamese-American families live less than two miles from the edge of a new landfill, opened on April 26, and representatives told The New York Times they fear dumping the debris there will threaten their existence.
Environmental groups are also angry, accusing local and federal officials of ignoring regulations, comparing it to the aftermath of Hurricane Betsy in 1965, after which one dump became a Superfund site.
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the Army Corps of Engineers are both working on the cleanup that Joel Waltzer, a lawyer representing landfill opponents, says includes “cleaning solutions, pesticides, fertilizers, bleach.”