Ethnic Weekly Proudly of Two Minds


Abortion, drugs, homosexuality, interracial dating. These are not issues discussed in most Vietnamese American families, but a new bilingual weekly in Orange County is hoping to change that.

“After 25 years in this country, our community has a lot more variety of interests than just communism and anti-communism,” said Hieu Tran Phan, editor of the English section of Viet Tide, a Westminster-based publication launched in July.

In its first weeks, the English-language section has taken on subjects shunned by traditional Vietnamese publications: A young man caught between cultures finds comfort in the rave party scene and the drug Ecstasy; a 23-year-old gay man from Santa Ana ponders how best to come out of the closet, and a 21-year-old Anaheim Hills woman wants advice on how to break the news to her parents that she’s in love with a Mexican man.


“If she’s 100% Vietnamese, she would marry only a Vietnamese man,” one reader responded. “Two Vietnamese people can understand each other better.”

Other readers were more sympathetic, including a woman who said she had married a white man despite her initial reservations.

“I finally married him because he really cares for me and my mother,” she wrote. “That means more to me than skin color.”

The English-language section is a medley of opinion columns, news briefs, poetry and an open discussion forum called “Heart to Heart,” all contained inside the new but more traditional Vietnamese-language newspaper.

Topics in the English-language pages are decidedly different from those in the Vietnamese section, which features more conventional news stories on politics and national and world events.

The subjects might not seem groundbreaking by mainstream media standards, said Phan, 27, who left a daily newspaper reporting job to run the English section of the tabloid-sized paper.


“But for us, this is truly revolutionary,” he said. “These things happen [in the Vietnamese American community], but they are rarely discussed in the open.”

Viet Tide is published by the company that also owns Little Saigon Radio, a longtime fixture in Orange County’s Vietnamese American community and named after the Westminster neighborhood that serves as its commercial and cultural hub.

California, with its large and diverse immigrant population, has one of the most vibrant ethnic media scenes in the country. New California Media, a coalition of ethnic publishers and broadcasters, counts more than 200 publications among its members.

The challenge for many of these media outlets, observers say, is to remain relevant as their readers age and their children become more assimilated into the larger culture.

“All of them are trying to figure out ‘How do we hold on to the audience?’ ” said USC sociology professor Sandra Ball-Rokeach, who studies the role of community media in ethnic neighborhoods.

The answer for many has been to include English-language pages. Large ethnic dailies such as Korea Times, Nguoi Viet Daily News and the Chinese L.A. Daily News publish sections in English periodically. But much of those sections consist of English translations of the papers’ own native-language articles and reprints from mainstream media.


Such publications have their compasses turned to Asia and seldom deal with issues that first-generation immigrants consider taboo, such as sexuality or drug use.

Viet Tide is one of a handful of Asian American and other ethnic publications beginning to offer original content that puts greater emphasis on local issues and trends.

KoreAm Journal, a 11-year-old English magazine for Korean American based in Gardena, has been addressing social issues that frequently have been off-limits in the Korean-language media. Pan-Asian publications such as A. Magazine and Yolk have leaned more toward Hollywood than Ho Chi Minh for subject matter.

“For anyone who is born here, we feel the need to put things from that perspective,” said Dina Gan, Editor in Chief of A. Magazine, a New York-based publication distributed nationwide. “Our focus is basically on a Pan-Asian awareness, chronicling that identity as it develops in the U.S.”

Some experts say Viet Tide and similar publications might mark the beginning of the end of Asian ethnic media, said Jeffrey Brody, an associate professor of communication at Cal State Fullerton.

“The pattern has been that the more acculturated an immigrant group gets, the less likely they are to rely on ethnic media,” he said.


German immigrants in the early part of the century established dozens of newspapers around the country, which have all but disappeared. Some turned bilingual, but that could not stem the cultural shift that led to the loss of their audiences as younger generations became Americanized.

But Brody and other experts say the pattern may not repeat itself this time, given the growing links among people, nations and economies.

“The bilingual version can be viewed as kind of a transition period signaling the death of the Korean version or Vietnamese versions of the papers,” USC’s Ball-Rokeach said. “But I’m not so sure. It is much more of a global setting now, and the capacity to negotiate linguistically and culturally among different countries may be an advantage.”

Phan agrees, saying Viet Tide’s English-language section can actually strengthen Vietnamese roots.

“The luxury of living in Little Saigon is also the curse of living in Little Saigon,” Phan said about the often insular Vietnamese American community. “We’re trying to cover all the experiences of living in the borderland.”

Phan said about 15,000 to 20,000 copies of Viet Tide are distributed free at businesses that advertise in it, and it sells for 50 cents at newsstands around Southern California.


Early reactions have been mixed, said Phan, who fields dozens of calls from readers each week.

“You don’t air out your dirty laundry in public,” Phan said he has been told by some callers. “But that’s what’s exciting. It means we can be a catalyst for debate.”