For more than a decade, a community group in Little Saigon has led the commemoration of the fall of Saigon, a day of reflection and unity in a place better known for its divisive politics and loud street protests.
But this year, even the event marking the fall of South Vietnam to communist forces has given way to in-fighting.
Members of the Vietnamese American Community of Southern California, which usually organizes the event, say the event has been stolen by an Orange County supervisor. They contend she quietly obtained the necessary permits and intends to use the event for political gain.
"It doesn't make sense when an elected official tries to steal an event from the community for herself to gain votes," said Lac Tan Nguyen, president of the organization.
Not true, says Andrew Do, chief of staff for Supervisor Janet Nguyen, whose district includes the large Vietnamese enclave in central Orange County.
"This being the 35th year of the fall of Saigon, we think it would be a significant event for the community, so that's why we wanted to be involved," Do said. "This event is like other events that we have done to memorialize historical events in the community."
The fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, resulted in thousands of Vietnamese fleeing to the United States, where they settled in communities such as Little Saigon, San Jose and New Orleans. The anniversary has become known as Black April and is considered a day of mourning. In Little Saigon, it is usually marked with a ceremony at Westminster's Freedom Park, where a statue honoring American and Vietnamese soldiers stands.
Nguyen's office has never organized a Black April event and intended to reach out to other groups for help in February, Do said, but by then, the organization that had staged the ceremony had become furious.
"We aren't trying to monopolize the event," Do said.
"We don't have the ability to put on an event like this alone. We don't have the military presence, the history, the community participation to do this event right alone. But to say that one particular organization is entitled to hold that event at that location is completely a fallacy."
Lac Tan Nguyen said his group has long organized the event and was not interested in working with the supervisor's office to put it on this year.
"Janet Nguyen said she is organizing it for the community, but who asked her?" he said. "This is our suffering. This is the Vietnamese community's suffering. We need to organize it."
He and about a dozen other members of his organization met with Westminster City Council members Frank Fry and Andy Quach on Monday afternoon and asked them to revoke the supervisor's permit, but the council members declined.
The council members agreed to try to set up a meeting between the supervisor's office and the community group.