Sometimes I marvel at the peculiarly Vietnamese ability to inflict wounds on themselves.
I recognize that no country or ethnic group is immune to intramural blood-letting, but after a lifetime of working among, studying about and living as Vietnamese, I can’t help acknowledge that we win the prize in being our own worst enemy.
Take politics. Most Viet-Ams escaped from the Communist regime in Vietnam, in search of freedom (or so we proclaim). But what did the Vietnamese American community do with this freedom?
A prominent dissident poet, Nguyen Chi Thien, who spent 27 years in Communist jail for criticizing the government, finally made it to the U.S. and what does he do now? He’s leading a protest in Orange County against the Viet Weekly, accusing it, of all things, of being insufficiently anti-Communist.
In the Bay Area, Viet-Ams got their first elected member on the San Jose City Council only in 2005, and by 2007, her own constituency has turned against her. The issue? Whether to name a commercial strip “Little Saigon” or “Vietnam Business District.” Some 5,000 voters just submitted a petition for her ouster, and it seems that a recall election will take place early next year. It is anybody’s guess when will another Viet-Am be elected to the City Council again.
Then comes the news this week that, of all Asian American groups in this country, Viet-Ams stand out once again for their lone support of John McCain in this election.
The National Asian American Survey of almost 4,400 APIs, conducted in August and September, shows that 41 percent support Senator Obama, 24 percent back Senator McCain and 34 percent remain undecided.
While 60 percent of Japanese Americans, 53 percent of South Asians, 41 percent of Chinese Americans and about 37 percent of Korean and Filipino Americans would vote for Obama, 51 percent Vietnamese Americans support McCain.
I’m somewhat ambivalent about the old McCain: in the 1960s, he bombed my native country 23 times before being shot down. But in the 1990s, he and John Kerry, another war hero, provided cover for Bill Clinton, a draft dodger during the Vietnam War, to normalize relations with Vietnam.
But that old McCain bears no resemblance to the current candidate. In 2008, we are in a financial meltdown. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that a bitter, angry, erratic Cold Warrior like McCain is unfit for both the global market and domestic depression.
Vietnamese Americans, who are among the poorer and less educated APIs, are suffering already from unemployment, lack of health care and inadequate retirement. Many are teetering on the brink of foreclosures. Yet they are still embracing a candidate whose only valid credential is anti-Communism.
And lest we forget, he’s also a candidate who in his first run for president in 2000 famously proclaimed, “I hate the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live.”
Vu-Duc Vuong is a teacher and writer in the Bay Area. firstname.lastname@example.org