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Westminster park renamed after first Vietnamese American elected to public office

Tony Lam, center, the first Vietnamese American elected to public office in the U.S., stands at the park.
Tony Lam, center, the first Vietnamese American elected to public office in the U.S., stands at the park that now bears his name.
(Ben Brazil)

Tony Lam has made an enduring mark on Orange County politics and the Vietnamese community.

Lam, 85, became the first Vietnamese American elected to public office in the United States when he won a seat on the Westminster City Council in 1992. During that time, he helped Vietnamese immigrants get business licenses, pushed for the creation of a senior center and helped make “Little Saigon” a landmark.

On Tuesday, Park West Park in Westminster was renamed in his honor.

The event was attended by more than a hundred people, including the Lam family, community members and local politicians like members of the Westminster City Council, Assemblywoman Janet Nguyen, congressional members Alan Lowenthal and Michelle Steel and Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer. They all spoke fondly of Lam and thanked him for his political guidance.

“What you have achieved, sir, is unprecedented,” Councilman Tai Do said at the event. “You are a pioneer. You paved the way for our generation to have a higher achievement to run for corporate office. You served with integrity. You protected everybody’s constitutional rights. You got the respect of the City Council. You have the respect of the residents. It’s an honor for me to support this project, and it’s an honor for me to be here to rename this park to Tony Lam Park.”

Several other local officials spoke glowingly about Lam. He was called a “legend” and a “true role model.” After each speaker, Lam stood up from his front row seat, cane in hand, and shook each of their hands.

Nguyen said that Lam was a trailblazer for Vietnamese Americans, including herself. Nguyen is the first Vietnamese American in the country to be elected to a state’s legislative senate and is currently the highest ranking Vietnamese American elected official in California, according to her website.

“This park will bear not just Tony Lam’s name, it will be a prize for Vietnamese Americans and children that will drive by and go to this park and go, ‘Wow, there’s a Vietnamese American name. I wonder what he did? I could do that.’”

Tony Lam poses in front of the new sign for Tony Lam Park with family, friends and community members.
Tony Lam poses in front of the new sign for Tony Lam Park with family, friends and community members.
(Ben Brazil)

Lam came to the U.S. after fleeing his homeland at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. He worked as an insurance agent and was a co-owner and operator of three restaurants in Little Saigon. He also was president of the Orange County Vietnamese-American Chamber of Commerce and a board member of the Humana Hospital and the Orange County Community Council.

During his speech at the event, Lam showed his appreciation for the renaming of the park and thanked several people for supporting him over the years.

“I hardly can express how emotional and how happy I am, that combined together in my heart and mind, I’m truly humbled to be here today,” Lam said. “It’s a great honor to have this park dedicated to my name.”

Lam spoke about his time on the City Council, pointing out that he was proud of how he tackled the rampant crime problems in Westminster in the 1990s. He said he worked with other council members to secure more funding for the police department to combat the issue.

Lam also spoke about his experiences volunteering after fleeing Vietnam as the country collapsed following the war. Lam helped hundreds of Vietnamese refugees who had gone a day without eating or drinking after quickly fleeing the country. He also said that he volunteered to run a Vietnamese refugee camp.

“In my life span, I don’t know why, I always end up as a volunteer with no pay,” Lam said, and the audience laughed. “But that’s the way I am.”

Tony Lam speaks during the park renaming event in his honor.
Tony Lam speaks during the park renaming event in his honor.
(Ben Brazil)

Lam said he knows a lot of work remains, but he will leave that to the younger generations, including the youth of his family.

“I have only 15 grandchildren, but they will be the future of my family, and they will contribute to the growth and the livelihood of America,” Lam said.

Lam’s daughter, Cathy Lam, said during an interview after the event that her father has always cared about people. As she grew up, she watched him help newly arriving immigrants, help the community get engaged with the voting process and work towards getting the Vietnamese community a seat at the political table.

Cathy Lam said she was inspired by her father’s work to become an advocate for the Vietnamese community. She is a board member of the Pivot Network, which seeks “to engage and empower Vietnamese Americans for a just and diverse America.” She’s also a board member of the VANGO Network, a Fountain Valley-based group that helps with community development in underserved areas.

“I just saw him, and I’m just so proud and so happy that he’s in my life,” she said. “Everything I do now is for a diverse and a just America.”

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