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August 27, 2004
Little Saigon Is Not Kerry Country

Being a Southern California native and having spent a good portion of my adult life in Orange County, I have more than a passing familiarity with an area known as Little Saigon in the cities of Garden Grove, Westminster, and a small piece of Santa Ana. In fact, I used to live within a few blocks of the area when I was a single young Captain. (I categorically deny ever conducting clandestine missions down Brookhurst Avenue; however, I did get a lucky hat from a guy who claimed to be CIA ... as well as an extra-terrestrial.)

Pete Peterson writes an excellent article in today's American Spectator on the thriving community of Vietnamese ex-patriates who came to the US on barely sea-worthy boats and built themselves a commercial empire in California's most conservative area. Peterson himself, according to the article, frequents coffee bars in the area. It comes as no surprise to me that Peterson reports that the Vietnamese diaspora in Orange County harbor no love for John Kerry, and not just for his role in ensuring Saigon's collapse:

In "America's Most Republican County" (350 elected officials; registration 48.5% Rep./30.6% Dem.) Senator Kerry is considered a traitor to the Vietnamese cause. His anti-war antics that helped launch a thousand boats, coupled with his shelving of the 2001 Vietnam Human Rights Act (a litmus test for a majority of Vietnamese no matter what party), gives President Bush a golden opportunity to woo an often overlooked minority voting block.

"Kerry's action burned bridges nationwide" within the Vietnamese community, according to Garden Grove councilman and Republican California State Assembly candidate Van Tran. Sponsored in the House by Christopher Smith and co-sponsored by the unlikely bipartisan duo of Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA, whose district crosses into Little Saigon), the human rights act passed by a margin of 410-1. Kerry, then ranking member of the Senate subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, did not allow the legislation to come to the floor for a vote.

This bill came to the Senate in 2001, the year after Kerry supported UMass-Boston's hiring of two 'scholars' from the People's Republic of Viet Nam to study the mass migration of people from the misery their government caused, rather than hiring people from within the American Vietnamese refugee communities. Squelching this bill the next year when it obviously had tremendous bipartisan agreement in the house reinforces both Kerry's reputation as an extremist in the Senate and suspicions of his sympathies with the Communist regime currently running Viet Nam.

Both qualities tend to play poorly in Little Saigon, where Peterson recalls the case of a video-rental shopkeeper who enraged the community by displaying a large Communist Viet Nam flag in his store. Not only did his action bring numerous protests (and eventually lead to the discovery of his video bootlegging operation), but it also inspired the Vietnamese in Little Saigon to become more politically active. They plan on using that clout to keep John Kerry from becoming president in order to ensure that he cannot further embolden the regime that forced them to flee across the ocean to America.

Do not underestimate the determination of these people. I recall clearly when they began to arrive, broke and and in poor health from their treatment in Viet Nam and their horrific journey. I was in high school and their massive settlement in the heart of Orange County clearly unnerved residents in the area. When the immigrants began putting up shop signs in Vietnamese without even the pretense of an English translation, debate raged about slums, gangs, and the pressure of crimes and the drain on public-safety resources. Some of these issues did arise, especially early on.

Now, however, the area mostly thrives and demonstrates the power of the American economic system. These refugees had experience in capitalist economies -- it was one of the main issues in their civil war, after all -- and they had the desire to carve out a life based on private enterprise rather than the public dole. In fact, they could serve as sterling examples of what George Bush means when he speaks about "ownership societies". They built their businesses almost from scratch, bought their own houses and apartments, and now enthusiastically embrace the notion of personal responsibility and grasping the reins of one's own destiny.

As an example, Peterson notes that Little Saigon's newfound confidence in its own political power got a boost this spring when they took on the government that killed hundreds of thousands of their families and friends:

THE LATEST NEWS OUT OF Little Saigon was the passing of two ordinances in May of this year, one each in Westminster and Garden Grove, which declared both cities "communist-free zones." The communist Vietnamese government had been planning a charm mission to Little Saigon (as well as other expat communities), to promote "Resolution 36," which seeks to define the government's relationship with those communities. The resolution, passed in March, defines the Diaspora as inferior to the homeland, and requires it to support the current regime for its ultimate success (in other words, "send us your money"). The mission was subsequently scrubbed, at least in Orange County. Since then a number of other communities have enacted similar communist-free zoning acts.

A people this energized and motivated will not easily be cowed by the stentorian tones of John Kerry, nor will they accept an outcome which leaves Kerry free to conduct the foreign policy of the United States in order to suck up to their former Communist jailers in Viet Nam. People have been betting against the denizens of Little Saigon for almost 30 years. Those of us who've seen what they can do when united in purpose and pride know better.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 27, 2004 9:57 PM

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