In the past week, two different races have highlighted Vietnamese American politicians to the national level:
The most controversial race has been seven-term Representative Loretta Sanchez‘s (D-California / 47th Congressional District – Orange County that includes Disneyland and Angels Stadium) comments regarding her Vietnamese American opponent, Republican state Assemblyman Van Tran (the first Vietnamese elected to the California Assembly).
In a Spanish-language interview last week, Representative Sanchez made reference to “the Vietnamese” coming to her heavily-Hispanic district:
“The Vietnamese and the Republicans are intensely (trying) to take this seat,” Sanchez said, “this seat (from which) we have done so much for our community, to take this seat and give it to this Van Tran, who is very anti-immigrant and very anti-Hispanic.”
In her defense, Sanchez has said that she was referring to Vietnamese Americans who were supporting Van Tran and that there has been a lot lost in translation from Spanish-to-English, and then English-to-Vietnamese (I wonder how many native Spanish speakers know Vietnamese?). Van Tran’s campaign is crying foul and calling out Sanchez on making such a racist remark. Personally, I’m willing to give Sanchez the benefit of the doubt: she has broad support across the Vietnamese and Hispanic communities, and last won re-election with 69% of the vote in 2008 (Obama won 60% in the same District). But given that there is an anti-incumbant and anti-Democratic mood in the electorate, Sanchez doesn’t need a gaffe like that.
The other high profile story was in The New York Times / The Bay Citizen discussing the re-election efforts of the controversial Democrat Madison Nguyen versus her Republican opponent, 32-year-old small business owner Minh Duong for San Jose City Council (District 7). I’ve blogged about Madison quite a few times, most recently about her fighting a recall effort.
San Jose has the highest concentration of Vietnamese of any major American city – making up 9% of San Jose — so Vietnamese American issues such as naming a community Saigon Business District versus Little Saigon can become very heated, even though there are a lot of more pressing issues, such as balancing the budget or education. The Times describes the two opposing candidates:
“Although the outcome of the race for the District 7 City Council seat is unknown, in its own way the campaign already reveals the growing political strength of Vietnamese-Americans, particularly in California, where the Vietnamese population has grown by 90 percent, to more than 530,000 since 1990, according to census figures … Ms. Nguyen enjoys greater name recognition than Mr. Duong, and she has the support of labor unions and the endorsement of every council member and a former mayor. Mr. Duong has positioned himself as a pro-business, pro-American, nonpolarizing conservative, with roots in Vietnam’s past.”
Vietnamese Americans traditionally have voted Republican, given that many immigrants fled Vietnam to escape the Communist government. However, the San Francisco Bay Area is fairly Democratic: in Silicon Valley, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 2-to-1. However, Nguyen still has quite the battle at hand; District 7 is over 30% Asian American and predominately Vietnamese. A lot of Vietnamese Americans still hold bitter feelings over Madison’s support of naming a business area Saigon Business District over Little Saigon. For younger voters, this is much less of an issue, but older voters, especially those who want to see Madison go, will be motivated to vote.
It has been interesting to see the rise of Vietnamese Americans involved politically, from the Federal level with Congressman Joseph Cao to the local level with Madison Nguyen. Just within the past few years, Vietnamese Americans have made great strides, and with their growing population, concentration, involvement and engagement, we’ll be seeing more and more at all levels of government.