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In Little Saigon, those who’ve traveled far take the long view on Trump

In this community, Trump got significant support from the older generation of Vietnamese Americans.

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On the big screen at the Gypsy Cafe, Barron Trump looked both curious and bewildered as he faced a crowd of thousands before his father was sworn in as president.

Philip Nguyen, 54, eyed the 10-year-old on TV, and said he reminded him of his own son, 11. “My boy, he goes, ‘Dad, is Trump a good guy or a bad guy?’ We truly need him to do some good. I tell him to wait and see,” he said. “But kids can be faster than us nowadays. They have social media. They form opinions. They research.”

Nguyen, his younger brother and a buddy of theirs from church had just finished heartening bowls of noodles at the Little Saigon hot spot, where regulars gathered to talk about the pounding rain, the increasing cost per minute to call Vietnam and the inauguration of Donald Trump.

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In this community, Trump got significant support from the older generation of Vietnamese Americans — staunch Republicans who like the GOP’s vocal anti-communist platform. But the younger crowd doesn’t go one way. Some are Democrats, some independents.

Nguyen said he felt worried. “Every four years, there seems to be the same battle. All these internal discussions about what will happen, what should happen, what shouldn’t happen. If there’s a means to unite as people, everyone should. That way they can go further and focus on real issues.”

Nguyen owns an information technology business based in Toronto and says he views the U.S. from “a foreigner’s eyes,” having lived for years in Canada. He flew in this week to attend a niece’s wedding in Orange County.

“I’ve been to the States enough times to worry about American protectionism. I think we put way too many eggs in one basket and we need to find other sources like in the Pacific Rim,” he said.

Foreign interests dominated conversations inside the cozy coffee shop, decorated with oil paintings and scenic sepia prints. Customers routinely travel back and forth to Asia, Canada or parts of Europe to cut deals or to visit family and friends. Some of them keep homes in both Southern California and south Vietnam. Little Saigon has many tour operators offering trips from Berlin to Tokyo to Montreal.

“We are an international community. We have roots in different places in the world and we appreciate traditions of the world,” said Nguyen’s brother Vu, who works in e-commerce payment processing. But he said people should give the new president a chance. “Don’t look at him from ‘The Apprentice’ point of view,” he said. “Be open.”

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That’s when Vinh Huynh, 52, the brothers’ friend from Fountain Valley, admitted he voted for Trump. The guys teased him, jokingly handing him the breakfast bill.

“Unfortunately, I’m in the minority in California,” sayd Huynh, a retail marketing specialist and devoted Republican. “I believe in a platform of basic freedoms and rights and so does the party.”

Vu Dinh and John Do, pals since middle school, said what was needed was patience. “Give him a chance, that’s all I can say,” Do, who runs an auto repair shop, said as he sipped espresso. “He’s not gonna dump money out to push all the immigrants out. My guess is, he’ll encourage all the people who are here illegally to do paperwork, pay taxes.”

The people have voted. And Mr. Trump is who they chose. We hope for the best.

— Vu Dinh

The 47-year-old from Westminster said his community pays close attention to business.

“The bottom line, that’s what we’re concerned about,” he said, “while many people are living off their piggy banks and need more help to plan for their future.”

Dinh, 49, who works in air conditioning repair and replacement, said that ultimately, “the people have voted. And Mr. Trump is who they chose. We hope for the best.”

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In the background, Trump could be heard declaring: “The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.”

Dung Lu, manager of Gypsy Cafe, said that for days, what he’s heard from aging former captains, colonels and lieutenants of the Vietnamese armed forces is fear about the future of Obamacare.

“I watch TV and we all try to predict,” said the 64-year-old, pointing to the eatery’s three televisions. “But time will answer for us what he can do.”

Immigration lawyer Dao Nguyen, 66, of Westminster said Trump gives the appearance of being a hardliner when it comes to policy. “But he’s trying to keep a balance within the law,” he said. “People around me, like in this cafe, may say they’re terrified about deportations or him limiting the number of immigrants who can enter the country. Yet he just got into office. Let’s think about what we can offer before we ask what he can offer.”

Before paying for her fragrant, spicy soups, manicurist Thuy Nguyen said she was willing to give the new “most powerful man” more time to get used to his post — even if she will miss outgoing President Obama’s “class, manners and calm.”

Whether Trump “loves immigrants or not love them, we can’t really know — yet. He talks tough,” said the Garden Grove mother, 50. “But can he do anything?”

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anh.do@latimes.com

Twitter: @newsterrier

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