For some years now itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been widely believed that Orange CountyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Vietnamese community was a model for the quick assimilation of a foreign-born immigrant group into full-scale Americanization. That meant complete participation in the political process as well as the economic life of the region.
Some residents of Little Saigon think one requirement of U.S. citizenship is that you demonize other immigrant groups. The object of their attack is Orange CountyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s large Latino population. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve also learned that to win elections you appeal to your strength, which in this case is the 135,000 Vietnamese voters in Orange County. Put these together and you have a winner.
During the recent supervisorial election, the two Nguyens ran as underdogs against established Republican and Democratic politicians. The Nguyens finished first and second by concentrating on their fellow refugees and mining the Vietnamese absentee voter potential.
And in such a close race, some white votes might well determine the victor, so both NguyenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s played the Ã¢â‚¬Å“illegal immigrantÃ¢â‚¬Â card.
A Janet Nguyen mailer carried the statement, Ã¢â‚¬Å“My family immigrated here the right way Ã¢â‚¬â€œ legally Ã¢â‚¬â€œ like millions before them over the years.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The leaflet depicted Hispanics crossing a barbed-wire fence while other immigrants were shown in a photo being sworn in as citizens. Ã¢â‚¬Å“When it comes to immigration, there is a right way and a wrong way.Ã¢â‚¬Â
JanetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s attempt to tie Vietnamese refugees to the historic, traditional way of immigration to this countyÃ¢â‚¬â€what she calls the Ã¢â‚¬Å“legal wayÃ¢â‚¬ÂÃ¢â‚¬â€is disingenuous.
JanetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s family and hundreds of thousands of other refugees from Vietnam were allowed in under legislation that permitted overwhelming numbers of Cubans and Vietnamese into this country. That may make her Ã¢â‚¬Å“legalÃ¢â‚¬Â but it wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t the way most legal immigrants, by the millions, came to this country.
Had JanetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s family waited in line as potential immigrants from other countries must wait, they would still be in a refugee camp in East Asia. Instead, they were ushered to the front of the line.
I am sure that JanetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s family endured hardships on their way to America. But she is not above the Latino, who, for the welfare of his family, dares to cross the dangerous waters of the Rio Grande or endures the sweltering heat of the southern deserts. The Ã¢â‚¬Å“illegalÃ¢â‚¬Â immigrant differs from the Vietnamese refugee only because the American Government made one of them Ã¢â‚¬Å“legal.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The blatant appeal to ethnic identity that dominated the O.C. 1st District supervisorial campaign was unbecoming to new Americans who are supposed to assimilate, not foster disunity.[Cal Poly Pomona professors emeriti Ralph E. Shaffer and Walter P. Coombs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]