Vietnamese For McCain

One Vietnamese community says it respects the presidential candidate for serving years in a North Vietnamese prison camp. They also believe he'll represent their interests as president.

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A recent national survey suggests Asian-Americans favor Barack Obama over John McCain in the presidential race except for one group, Vietnamese-Americans. Gloria Hillard reports from the largest Vietnamese community in the nation, Little Saigon in southern California.

GLORIA HILLARD: In the corner of a strip mall in Little Saigon, a group of middle-aged men are huddled around an ancient board game.

(Soundbite of Vietnamese men talking)

HILLARD: A few feet away in the doorway of the Thenlong (ph) bakery, a small speaker broadcasts a Vietnamese radio talk show, where the conversation centers on another competition.

(Soundbite of Vietnamese radio talk show)

HILLARD: John McCain's name is spoken often here. This community is considered a Republican stronghold in California's Orange County. Upstairs from the bakery is a small office. It serves as McCain campaign headquarters. Ann Lam (ph) comes here once a week to get campaign signs. In her hand is a straw hat covered with McCain stickers.

Ms. ANN LAM: I come here to pick up some sign to advertise him more and then tell their friends have to vote for Mr. John McCain on polling because he is a hero.

HILLARD: Lam came here after the fall of Saigon in 1975. The memories of the war linger here, and those who remember are loyal to Senator McCain. One of them is Fan Ki Nan (ph). Speaking through a translator, he wants me to know that like Senator McCain.

Mr. FAN KI NAN: (Through Translator) I am 72-year-old.

HILLARD: So, it's amazing.

Mr. KI NAN: That's amazing.

HILLARD: And they are both military men, Fan Ki Nan says. The slight gray haired veteran wears a brown uniform. It reminds him of the one he wore as an officer in the South Vietnamese military. Fan Ki Nan was also a prisoner of war, and it is from that shared experience that he feels the strongest kinship with the presidential candidate.

Mr. KI NAN: (Through Translator) John McCain had six years in Hanoi Hilton, and I am at 10 year in the prisoner - POW camp.

HILLARD: Fan Ki Nan says Vietnamese-Americans have also not forgotten McCain's role in spearheading legislation that allowed refugees to be reunited with their Vietnamese families in the United States. Down the block in another strip mall, I meet 31-year-old Fu Win (ph). He runs his father's business, which arranges wire transfers for people sending money to their families in Vietnam. In 1981, Fu Win was four years old when his family escaped Vietnam on a small fishing boat.

Mr. FU WIN: We were at sea for 29 days, ran out of food. Nine kids died.

HILLARD: But unlike his parents' generation, Win is voting for Barack Obama, and he believes he's not alone.

Mr. WIN: If you interview younger members of the Vietnamese community, you'll see that they are more prone to support Barack Obama, and the veterans, the older members, those who have gone through the war kind of feel a closeness to Senator McCain.

HILLARD: Both 31-year-old Fu Win and 72-year-old Fan Ki Nan say they plan to campaign for their respective candidates right up to election day here in their adopted homeland where the sounds of the past.

(Soundbite of Vietnamese men talking)

HILLARD: And present.

(Soundbite of radio station)

HILLARD: Intercept. For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.

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