Vietnamese in California Critical of Triet In Orange County's Little Saigon, a hotbed of anti-communist, anti-Hanoi sentiment, many are planning protests to coincide with the first post-war visit of a Vietnamese president to the United States.
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Vietnamese in California Critical of Triet

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Vietnamese in California Critical of Triet

Vietnamese in California Critical of Triet

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

There are sure to be more protests tonight when President Triet stops in Orange County in Southern California. It's home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam. Most of the residents of the area, known as Little Saigon, fled the communists in the 1970s.

Rob Schmitz of member station KQED reports.

ROB SCHMITZ: When it was revealed that President Triet's U.S. visit would include a stop in Los Angeles, folks in Little Saigon immediately formed a committee to organize a protest. Triet is a symbol of the dictatorship they managed to escape. In the meantime, some folks here are warming up their anti-communist chops by directing their vitriol at an easier target.

(Soundbite of community rally)

SCHMITZ: One by one, speakers from an audience of around 500, mostly elderly Vietnamese-Americans come up to a podium at a recent community rally. They shouted criticisms of the Viet Weekly, a neighborhood newspaper that has rumored to have landed an interview with President Triet during his visit here. For many, the idea that Triet would grant an interview to just one Vietnamese newspaper here is enough to label the paper pro-communist.

(Soundbite of community rally)

SCHMITZ: Rally organizers have convinced local businesses to pull their ads from the newspaper. Viet Weekly publisher Le Vu says that's not all they've done. He says, the other day, he received an anonymous phone call carrying a specific threat.

Mr. LE VU (Publisher, Viet Weekly): If you interview the president of Vietnam, we will burn your office down.

SCHMITZ: Vu, who can't help but smile when he talks about this, takes it all in stride. This is, after all, a neighborhood where a display of communist revolutionary, Ho Chi Min's photo, at a local video store eight years ago sparked weeks of protest. For many here, the Vietnam War never ended, and anything representing communism is the enemy. But Vu thinks this mindset is outdated and reflected by a very vocal minority.

Mr. VU: It is professional activists in this community. It doesn't represent the community.

SCHMITZ: The majority of Vietnamese-Americans says Vu quietly think the key to more freedom in Vietnam lies in improved trade and diplomatic relations with the country. The more often Vietnamese officials visit Little Saigon, says Vu, the more lessons they'll take back home.

Mr. VU: We have to build a sample democratic, civilized society here. So, with hope that people in Vietnam will look and reflect on this model where we already absorbed the best of America, and hope become the seed.

SCHMITZ: Back at the Viet Weekly rally, protestors stand at attention as they belt out the official song of South Vietnam, an extinct national anthem that is oftentimes resurrected here.

(Soundbite of song, "Tieng Goi Cong Dan")

Unidentified group: (Singing in foreign language)

SCHMITZ: Though many in Little Saigon remain loyal anti-communist, a good portion of the community does business in Vietnam. Everyone here knows this, but these relationships with the homeland are usually kept quiet out of fear of backlash. But even among those who make frequent business trips to Saigon or Hanoi, Vietnam's human rights record remains an obstacle.

Wai Mi Vu(ph) a middle-aged resident who attended the rally says the political freedom of relatives who still live in Vietnam is a big concern.

Ms. WAI MI VU (Resident, Little Saigon, Orange County): Because when you have freedom of trade only, the party that benefit is the government, not the people. I'm concerned of the people of Vietnam.

SCHMITZ: Vu and thousands of others here hope to deliver this very message to President Triet when he arrives here.

For NPR News, I'm Rob Schmitz.

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