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Remember how the ONLY Republican in Congress to vote in favor of healthcare was Louisiana’s bold Joseph “Anh” Cao – who also happens to be the only Vietnamese-American in Congress. Josh pointed out that, with the exception of Cuban gusano Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Cao is also the only Congressmember who has actually lived in a socialist or Communist country, and was thus unimpressed and unmoved by all the Republican heavy breathing about the supposed socialism or Communism of allowing a public option in American healthcare. In fact, that talk must have seemed bizarre to him.
This confirmed something I’d long observed about the Vietnamese, whether Buddhist, Catholic or freethinking – they seem to generally have an innate sense of justice and egalitarianism which should make the Democratic Party a more natural fit for them, as indeed other Asian-Americans find it. This sense of justice is doubtless what led them to originally throw off their imperial shackles, a struggle which became notoriously ugly in the 60′s and 70′s due to foreign meddling on both sides. The first generation of exiles here have gravitated to the GOP due to its more strident anti-socialist rhetoric, but there is only so long that an innately humane people can cling to the Party of Yachts and Fear. And that honeymoon is gradually ending.
I guess what I’m trying to say in so many words is that I went ahead and kicked down fifty bucks Sunday to attend the grand kickoff of the new Vietnamese-American Democratic PAC (VADPAC) headlined by succulent Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, and it was pretty cool. In society-column bold let me rave of the Asian and non-Asian glitterati in attendance: the brilliant and radiant Dr. Kim-Oanh Nguyen-Lam, beloved Santa Ana Mayoral candidate Alfredo Amezcua, stalwart progressive Assemblyman Ted Lieu, indefatigable Costa Mesa Councilwoman Katrina Foley, charismatic “prospective” candidate for 68th Assembly seat Phu Nguyen, redoubtable DPOC chair Frank Barbaro, and I pause to catch my breath after this only partial list of luminaries.
(Phu holds forth in his genial way, Loretta spellbound)
I learned many things at this event. I learned how proud the whole Vietnamese-American community felt of Anh Cao, not just when he became the first Viet in Congress, beating legendary scumbag William Jefferson, but even more when he stood up to his Party, PROBABLY dooming himself to a single term, and voted for healthcare justice for his constituents.
Little Saigon attorney and VADPAC chairman Do Phu Nguyen (not to be confused with Phu) opened the proceedings with a compelling list of reasons more and more Viets are drawn away from the Party of Yachts and Fear, and to the Democrats or Dem-leaning independence. Some of those issues:
- Healthcare reform. Vietnamese-Americans are very supportive of this, and know perfectly well that there is nothing “socialist” about it, having fled from, and remaining in close contact with, an actual Communist regime. The reality is most Viets either have small businesses who cannot afford to offer healthcare to their employees, or they ARE employees or self-employed people who also can’t afford skyrocketing insurance rates. This year they have seen the unmistakable fact that the Democrats are trying to move heaven and earth to address this crisis while the Republicans (with the exception of Ahn Cao) offer nothing but obstruction and fearmongering.
- Education. I’m told many if not most Viets who have a college degree got it with some sort of government aid or loan – a Pell Grant, a Cal Grant – which they are perfectly aware are Democratic programs often fought against fiercely by Republicans. As with all immigrant communities, the Viets quite rightly see education as the indispensable key to assimilation and advancement in American society.
- The Democrats are obviously perceived, justly, as the party that values civil rights and equal opportunities for immigrants, high priorities for our Viet friends; and
- Do Phu proclaimed plainly, “Democrats care about human rights in Vietnam and Republicans don’t!” and the applause suggested this was a well-accepted truism. This I needed to get more details on, so I spoke later to both Phu and Do Phu…
Democrats, Republicans, and Human Rights in Vietnam
Well, apart from the complicated fact that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson are remembered as saviors by the Viet diaspora for their interventionism, and Nixon as a traitor for pulling out, the more recent and fairer examples I hadn’t considered:
- Democratic President Carter is considered a great champion for his humane refugee resettlement policies;
- Democratic President Clinton is revered for LIFTING THE EMBARGO against Vietnam – yes, Viet-Americans oppose the Communist Vietnamese government, but they do not want their relatives punished economically, and they want it to be as easy as possible to travel and communicate and send money back and forth.
- Republican President George W. Bush, however, provoked outrage in the community by meeting with the Vietnamese leader at the White House and discussing only trade with no mention of human rights.
- Vietnamese Americans understand that Republicans in general talk and talk about “democracy” and “freedom,” but when it comes down to actual policies, they treat Vietnam as a source of cheap products and slave labor. (Not my words, but true!)
- And this is leaving aside all the outreach and gestures large and small by our local pols Loretta Sanchez and Lou Correa, who are beloved by the Little Saigon community, actions and outreach that generally fly under the radar of our round eyes.
- Viets, I hear, are getting tired of the divide-and-conquer game the Republicans have been playing for decades between them and the Latino community. I look forward to this coming to a head next year as (yet-to-be-announced) progressive philanthropist Phu Nguyen takes on Latino-bashing Alan Mansoor. (I am not allowed to write any more about that until Phu’s official announcement – soon.)
(Okay, let’s try that again with Katrina, and the old guy.)
Okay, given all of this, why have Orange County Republicans to date voted overwhelmingly Republican, and is that really changing, or is it a pipe dream?
Twilight of the Trannies (and Jannies)
For one thing, the Orange County GOP has long been very forward-looking at allocating lots of money and institutional support to Viet Republican candidates; exactly what this new PAC has been formed to counter. From the start they appealed to the new refugees with their more strident anti-socialist and warmongering talk talk talk, their more flamboyant religiosity, and the divide-and-conquer with rival, Dem-voting Hispanic immigrants.
Van Tran’s thuggish Little Saigon political patronage machine (unfondly dubbed by this blog the “Trannies”) began to see its first challenge from another Republican grouplet led by Janet Nguyen (who of course became the Jannies) – however they have rapidly turned out to be just as corrupt, unresponsive and racist as the cabal they aimed to supplant. What I hear from Viets at this event and on the street is Van and Janet’s folks are just the same, regularly betraying the interests of their constituents who voted them into power.
As the termed-out Van Tran’s popularity crumbles and he approaches his final grand crash on the rock of the beloved Loretta (taking her on for her Congressional seat next year), not only are registration numbers inexorably shifting to Dem and Decline to State, but more and more Democratic Viet candidates are coming out of the woodworks to run for various local offices. I have mentioned Phu in the 68th (Van’s old seat) – also at the event was Fountain Valley City Council candidate Duy T. Nguyen, and Westminster City Council candidate Kenneth Khoa Tan Do.
Here in Orange County, in the largest community of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam itself, what we are witnessing is what’s called a “Sea Change.” And it’s part of what Martin Luther King called “the arc of the moral universe” - long, yes, but “bending toward justice.”
End of Article. Extra Photos:
(Loretta chats with great Downey assemblyman Ted Lieu – who’s actually Taiwanese American, and promised me and Katrina to give us any help he could in derailing the sale of our Fairgrounds!)
(Political neophyte Phu becomes acquainted with Loretta’s affectionate manner.)
(This picture is mostly about future Mayor Alfredo’s giant white hair.)