Even Targets of Criticism Recognize Value of Human Relations Panel : Cultures: Honest, direct communication is the objective, and the commission’s work in bringing opposing groups or individuals together has met with praise.
In April, 1989, Chuyen Nguyen was embroiled in a controversy that was sparking an outcry in Orange County’s Vietnamese community and beginning to take on international proportions when he received a call from the representative of a county agency of which he had never heard.
Two days earlier, Westminster City Councilman Frank Fry Jr. had voted to deny a parade permit to Nguyen and the South Vietnamese Armed Forces Committee and then stunned them by announcing, “If you want to be South Vietnamese, go back to South Vietnam.”
Now Nguyen was talking to Rusty Kennedy, executive director of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, who was asking if he wouldn’t like to come to a commission meeting and talk about how he felt.
Nguyen remembers being surprised.
“We did not even know that a human relations commission existed in Orange County, but we were very pleased,” he said recently.
Many people have been affected by the Human Relations Commission over the past 20 years, some on the receiving end of stern censure, some the beneficiaries of new-found justice, others afforded a forum to air their grievances.
Despite what many consider a low profile, the commission has been able to improve the lives of individual residents and entire communities.
Even those on the receiving end of the commission’s wrath say they feel the agency benefits the county.
Fry, for example, says he believes his statement was taken out of context and blown way out of proportion but feels the commission did what it had to do.
Kennedy worked for an entire day drafting an apology that was acceptable to both sides and the controversy was finally diffused.
“I was a little angry being put into that position, but somebody had to give in,” the councilman said recently. “I think Rusty did a nice job. His interest was in behalf of the community as a whole.”
Many Garden Grove residents say they feel a new sense of community after the Human Relations Commission intervened in a controversy that erupted in 1989 over a proposal to require English on commercial signs in the city.
Members of the city’s large Asian community felt they were victims of discrimination, and the commission supported their contention. The city subsequently adopted an ordinance that made the use of English voluntary.
But the commission’s work did not stop there. It sponsored a six-month series of discussions between white and Asian residents.
“It was very successful,” said Jane Powell, a 44-year Garden Grove resident who had supported the sign ordinance and participated in the discussion groups. She now supports the current regulations.
“We all profited and now we know where each stands,” Powell said. “I think if anything like that were to come up again, there is a nucleus on both sides who feel we could talk to each other and get an honest appraisal.”
Myung Park, an Irvine resident who is president of an international trade business with offices in Carson and Garden Grove, said he too was pleased at the outcome.
“In the past, there was never an attempt at a program like that, but the attempt itself is a great fruit,” said Park, who immigrated from Seoul five years ago. “The commission cannot solve everything. But I have a high regard for their activities. I think the (white) majority sometimes has difficulty accepting minorities in Orange County, but it is undergoing swift changes that must be dealt with.”
Delano De Silva, an insurance underwriter who is a native of Panama, could have hardly imagined that someone would deal with his presence in Laguna Hills by vandalizing his home, spray-painting racial slurs on walls and furniture and causing emotional turmoil for his wife and two sons.
The 1990 incident was roundly condemned by community and religious leaders and the Human Relations Commission, which held a press conference to publicize the act.
“At first we were worried about going to the media,” De Silva said. “But when Rusty Kennedy contacted me to coordinate the press conference I said, ‘Yes.’ It was a very good gesture because it brought to the community’s attention a problem that they may not have been aware of. The result was that the community was very responsive, they sympathized and shared their outrage that these kinds of (acts) are still happening.”