U.S. Vietnamese Unite Behind County Protesters


The furor in Little Saigon over Communist symbols in a video store has sparked a grass-roots response in Vietnamese American communities throughout the United States.

Linked by Vietnamese-language radio stations and the Internet, organizers say, Vietnamese Americans in cities from Sacramento to Denver to Washington are mobilizing, kindling hopes for local community leaders that a movement is emerging that will fight not only for human rights in Vietnam but for a stronger, more united political voice for Vietnamese Americans.

Solidarity rallies expected to draw thousands are scheduled in San Jose this weekend, and a protest also is planned in Houston for next weekend. The two cities are home to the second- and third-largest populations of Vietnamese Americans in the country respectively, behind Orange County.


Meanwhile, a conference on human rights violations in Vietnam will take place this weekend in Dallas and Austin, Texas. In Washington, community members are planning a protest outside the Vietnamese Embassy next week.

“It’s been like a wildfire within the community, especially the youth,” said Chan Dieu Tran, a San Jose activist who helped organize the candlelight vigil planned in that city on Friday. “After the event last Friday down there, we all got together and said we need to do something here.”

About 15,000 people showed up Feb. 26 at a rally in Westminster organized largely by youth groups--the largest yet of the protests that have continued for more than a month outside the store of Truong Van Tran. The 37-year-old shopkeeper inflamed anti-communist passions by hanging up a flag of Communist Vietnam and a picture of Ho Chi Minh.

Tuan Anh Ho, one of the chief organizers of the Westminster protest, will be traveling to Texas and other spots to spread the message. He envisions the movement as something akin to the passing of the Olympic torch.

“The fire cannot be extinguished,” he said. “The flame will be passed from community to community. We don’t want to waste the community’s energy on Tran anymore. We have a bigger goal to reach for now.”

Toward that end, Ho announced Wednesday that community organizers are planning to scale down the protests, which have drawn 200 or more daily. By reducing the turnout to 20 or 30 around the clock, protesters hope to help businesses in the shopping center resume normal trade and to avoid the potential for violence when Tran returns to his store.


As the vigil continues, the protest area will become a site for exhibitions about Communist atrocities, Ho said. However, the point has been made loudly and clearly to the public that the Vietnamese American community finds Tran’s display offensive and insulting, Ho said.

Tran’s single act has served to galvanize the historically fragmented community in Southern California, uniting first-time protesters, youth and moderates who favor some business ties with Vietnam with ardent anti-communists.

“In the face of a common threat or challenge, people band together,” said community activist Diem Do. “I have no doubt that events like this provide the opportunity for groups to come together, including those that haven’t worked together otherwise.”

The sense of working toward a common goal has also empowered communities outside California.

“Over here in Houston, it’s the same thing,” said Cao-My Nguyen, president of the Vietnamese Community of Houston. “Last night, I called an urgent meeting and 60 people showed up representing 34 different organizations. I felt very good about that. In the past, organizations haven’t been against each other, but they haven’t worked together.”

A major factor in mobilizing the global village of Vietnamese emigres spread throughout the United States and the world has been the Vietnamese radio stations that simulcast in other cities with large Vietnamese American populations. Vietnamese emigres in other nations use the Internet to get news.


“Something that happens down here at 9 a.m., by 9:30 a.m. someone on the East Coast already knows,” said Do. “I think the community is coming of age. We have utilized different ways to get the word out.

Viet Dzung, an activist and anchor for Radio Bolsa--which also broadcasts in San Jose and Houston--agrees, saying the media have served as a conduit for the community’s energy. His station has received letters supporting protesters from Vietnamese emigres in Australia, France, Germany and Japan.

“That’s the amazing thing here. No one group is organizing this. It’s all spontaneous,” he said. “No one has seen a movement like this in the last 24 years.”