My, how the Vietnamese-Americans have assimilated

For some years now it’s been widely believed that Orange County’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 County’s large Latino population. They’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 Nguyen’s played the “illegal immigrant” card.

A Janet Nguyen mailer carried the statement, “My family immigrated here the right way – legally – like millions before them over the years.”

The leaflet depicted Hispanics crossing a barbed-wire fence while other immigrants were shown in a photo being sworn in as citizens. “When it comes to immigration, there is a right way and a wrong way.”

Janet’s attempt to tie Vietnamese refugees to the historic, traditional way of immigration to this county—what she calls the “legal way”—is disingenuous.

Janet’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 “legal” but it wasn’t the way most legal immigrants, by the millions, came to this country.

Had Janet’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 Janet’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 “illegal” immigrant differs from the Vietnamese refugee only because the American Government made one of them “legal.”

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]

  6 comments for “My, how the Vietnamese-Americans have assimilated

  1. March 19, 2007 at 7:13 am

    While this artcle focused on Janet Nguyens mailer, which I agree was disingenuous, both Nguyens played the “illegal Immigrant Card.

    I seem to recall the Trung Nguyen’s depiction of himself as a boarder guard prompted this…

    Caution! Trung in Tank
  2. March 19, 2007 at 9:28 am

    Boy, you hit it on the mark.

    It’s irritating seeing non-Hispanic, second-to-third-generation immigrants talking smugly about how their ancestors did it “the right way” knowing full well they didn’t face today’s immigration bureaucracy.

    The Vietnamese were practically invited in, and took advantage of a welfare system on their behalf once in the country to boot.

    If anything, the Vietnamese have shown they’ve learn a powerful lesson in democracy – that direct, unmitigated appeal to identity politics works.


  3. Flowerszzz
    March 19, 2007 at 11:47 am

    Correct me if I am wrong – but there is a difference in coming here as a refugee vs coming here illegally?

  4. Anonymous
    March 19, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    Flowerszzzz, did you read the post? I think that the entire point was that the difference between Vietnamese refugees and undocumented Mexican immigrants is rather small. If the American govt didn’t grant the Vietnamese refugees amnesty, there’d be very little to argue about here.

  5. Flowerszzz
    March 19, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    yes – I meant to say difference between being a refugee vs Illegal

    Main Entry: ref·u·gee

    : one that flees; especially : a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution

  6. thai
    March 20, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    Janet was born after 1975. She has no idea about the war in Vietnam or the communist regime. She should not make that kind of statement about refugees or illegal immigration. Many times I told my kids the difference between the two is a piece of paper. Without a I-94 card, I would be still standing in line waiting for rice and canned sardine at a refugee camp in Indonesia.

    I hope you don’t judge the Vietnam community in CA or US base on what Janet, Trung, and bozo Tan did or said. Like any political figure, his or her job is getting votes. Instead of try to prove how good he or she is, they lower themselves and adapt a wrong attitude by finding way to hurt opponents and people from other ethnics. They ended up hurting their own the most. The rest of us including me are so shameful of them.

    They may grow up and become good leaders, or may not. Our job is to monitor them and make sure the bad ones get weeded out every two or four years. OC voters made a mistake once by trusting their over-confident candidates and ignoring the Vietnamese Americans. Maybe you should be more selective in picking the next candidate. Chose someone who knows and get involved with the community, not someone related to a former party member or someone who had lunch with Bill Clinton once!

    Thanks for allowing me to share a few thought. I had my boat fueled and ready to go. If you are mad of my writing then up the anchor I go. I am heading to a Pacific island with my two pigs!

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