Saturday, January 31, 2009

Larry Stone and the Voters of District 7

One sad thing about the recall election is as the community exercising its given democratic rights, it has experienced threatening phone calls and tremendous amount of racist comments and innuendos. Some of the volunteers, especially young college students were reduced to tears as they walked through some neighborhoods.

Larry Stone, the Santa Clara county assessor, for some inexplicable reason still calls out the community as "bullies and thugs". It was one thing to drink alcohol at a one star night club (to raise money for Nguyen) and let one's foul mouth be out of control, it is another to be still ranting and raving about it. As an elected official (no matter how small), one should not use power of official title to label voters who want ethical government and its representatives to not serve special interest groups and not making deal behind the scene as quid pro quo favor. And most of all, the voters have the right to remove elected officials at their pleasure when they feel that the elected official can no longer have the moral and ethical being to serve the interest of the people. The recall team made up of hundreds of volunteers, they are registered voters with some are health care professionals, dentist, pharmacist, engineer from San Jose State, Stanford, Berkeley, ect....

The recall process is part of California political system and constitution. It is designed as a mechanism to keep elected officials honest. Most people who know Larry Stone do not believe he is a racist but in using his office title to incite hatred with demeaning and false labeling of an ethnic group, he has shown a darker side. The Vietnamese-American community though is very patient, forgiving and knows its value.

There are many Hispanic folks in District 7 and also some folks who live on Robert Street who think the recall team is something that should be in existence sooner. Little more than two years ago, The Hispanic community put up a huge banner on Story Street after Nguyen forced the venerable institution GI Forum (A nonprofit organization founded after WWII supporting Mexican-American war veterans) into almost bankruptcy. The banner said: " Recall Madison Nguyen. She Does Not Represent the Hispanic Community."

The Hispanic community's main concern is the rampant crime increase in District 7 in the last 2 years. They want somebody who can make the difference in their area and Nguyen from her record is not their woman (despite the fact that she is the chair of the safety committee).

And the poor people on Roberts Avenue, all they wanted were for the city to take care of the vacant lot in front of their houses for the weeds were growing out of control. It took months of phone calls to Nguyen's office. Finally, San Jose City Park & Recreational sent a tractor. But for some inexplicable reason, the tractor only did half of the work and left the other half undone. Another months of calling and the reluctant answer from Nguyen's office was the tractor broke down and they did not have another tractor for the job. What's next the people asked as their frustration grew.

The point is that this is a grassroot movement recall with people who are fed up with a city council with high paying salary and 4 full time staff who could not seem to get it. She could get $100,000 for the wealthy developer Tang Lap to enhance his shopping mall but when it comes to get a tractor to mow some weeds, it seemed to need an act of God.

Who Is Running to Replace Van Tran?

Lately, every political maven is talking about State Assemblyman Van Tran and his next move. Tran is termed out in 2 010 and considered by many to be the 500 lb guerrilla of Vietnamese-American politics in Orange County. He has a choice of running for state senate in 2012 (since there are no current open seats in 2010) or going after Loretta Sanchez in 2010. Two years ago when his political star was not tarnished, it was a strong possiblity. With a viscious campaign trying to destroy Supervisor Janet Nguyen and "to teach her a lesson" as Andy Quach put it, not once but twice in one year, he managed to lose quite a bit of goodwill from his own base.

Tran is a very calculated politician and he worries about his legacy in his own community. He will not take risk by committing to a race that he does not feel he could win. He rather waits until 2012. Last year, he already tested out the water by having his lieutenant, Lan Nguyen, sent out email to his closest supporters asking to fund raising for his potential US congressional race. The response was not very enthusiastic.

But the more interesting race within the Vietnamese-American community is who is going to replace Van Tran. He himself made comments recently that he does not see anyone capable in the community yet. This is a Republican seat in an off year election where the turn-out will be low.

For 2004 election, Tran spent 2 years before raising over $900,000. More than 1/3 of it came from the Vietnamese-American communities across the US, mostly from the work of one man, Dang Ha, his loyal friend that sacrificed his own job, reputation and money for Tran. The sad story is that he discarded Dang promptly without even a personal thank you note after his victory. Dang, an activist of incredible energy and reputation both in Vietnam and US, spent years in the harshest concentration camp. Now he is laboring to make ends meet.

It is now early 2009 and not even a single Vietnamese-American candidate privately or publicly make their intention known.

If any of the "Trannie" decided to run, they will of course benefit from his network and support. However, receiving Tran's blessing is like receiving a two edged sword. Dina Nguyen and Trung Nguyen should be a lesson for other Trannie to learn from.

The conventional wisdom in Little Saigon is that it is a waiting game. The Trannies are waiting to see if their bitter rival will run. The whisper in the community is Andrew Do will run. Who will he run against is not known yet? Could it be Andy Quach who is thinking of making a political come back? Or is it the young but fierce looking Tri Ta who recently as a Westminster mayor pro term demanded VAALA to apologize to the community for having the nerve to express freedom of speech by showing the bust of the Great Uncle Ho chi Minh.

Stay tune for another bitter battle. The OC pundits are saying if Tran is throwing another Trannie to test the community, he better choses his choice carefully for "three strike and you're out rule" might apply to him and his gang. So far, only strike two.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Marriage Made in Vietnam

Last November, a Viet kieu in hi tech business finally settled down and married his long time girlfriend. It was a private wedding attended by 200 people at the Hotel Caravelle in Ho chi Minh City.

What made the wedding note worthy is the fact that the Viet kieu is Harvard graduate, Henry Nguyen. A medical doctor by training from Northwestern with a MBA from Kellogg School of Management, Henry is the head of IDG Ventures Vietnam for the last 4 years. The bride, Nguyen thanh Phuong, is the daughter of the Prime Minister Nguyen tan Dung. She is the executive director of Vietnam Capital Fund Management

IDG Ventures Vietnam is part of the IDG Ventures which manages five local global funds of $700 million. IDG Ventures is part of Pat McGovern's empire in Boston. Pat McGovern is a billionaire businessman and a close friend of Senator John Kerry and in many ways along with Tom Vallely (Harvard) paved the way for Kerry's political career early on. Senators John Kerry and John McCain are well known for the work in spearheading the normalization of Vietnam in the mid 90s. Pat McGovern went to Vietnam as a member of the first American delegation to Vietnam along with a Vietnamese-American businessman from Boston. He was impressed with the people and opportunity and decided to invest up to $100 million of his own money. Years earlier, he bet on China's economic miracle and made a handsome return.

IDG Ventures Vietnam invests in companies with hi-tech focus. Two companies in the Bay Area received funding from IDG. VinaGame is a company started by Bryan Pelz of Santa Cruz along with other Vietnamese in Vietnam. The company is the largest online game provider in Vietnam. It employs 850 people (part time and full time) in Vietnam. The other is GES, Inc., a semiconductor instrument service company founded by Don Tran of Monterey.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Political Connection (Part II of III)

Every politician who lives in District 4, District 7 and District 8 knows that the Vietnamese-Americans made up 20% or more of the registered voters. City wide, they are about 10% of the total voters. In District 7 where the besieged Councilwoman Madison Nguyen resides, there are over 10,000 registered voters. This represents 34% of the district.

San Jose, a city composed of 1/3 Asians, 1/3 Hispanics and 1/3 Whites, the Vietnamese-Americans are the most sought after voting bloc since they are a swing vote in most districts. In District 7, they can win an election outright by their sheer turnout. On the average, they have the highest turnout of any ethnic minority groups. When it comes to politics, nothing motivate them more than democracy and freedom issues relating to their homeland. Just like the Cuban-Americans who dominate and shape the political landscape of Miami and in general South Florida, one of the key issues in the Vietnamese-American community is where one stands on the communist government in Vietnam.

Their high turnout in the primary for Chuck Reed in the last mayoral race gave Reed the upset victory in the primary over the favorite - Cindy Chavez. And the rest is history. According to the people close to her, Chavez could never recover emotionally even now, more than 2 years after the election.

Reed nurtured the relationship with the community immediately after he won the council race in 2000 for he realized that this is a political force that would help propel his political career.

They have done ok for themselves politically considering it is a poor community. Most people labor in restaurants and in nail saloons. They work as assembly workers, housekeepers, janitors and low income menial work. Yet it was their political connection that persuade Governor Arnold S. to appoint a Democrat Jacqueline Duong to superior court judgeship. They have 4 school board trustees. Two were originally by appointment. Their political prowess at the national level showed in the fund raising events put forth for Hillary Clinton in 2008 by the lawyer Michael Luu. Not once but twice.

And their political maturity demonstrated clearly in the efforts with the Little Saigon. Behind the scene, they met up with Reed three times trying to persuade him for the name Little Saigon. Reed stood his ground by reiterating:" The silent majority in District 7 is not supporting the name Little Saigon." This was despite the fact that they gathered over 4,000 signatures asking for the name Little Saigon and also the survey done by Madison Nguyen showed the majority wanted the name Little Saigon. Their delegation to city hall included Dennis Fong, the venerable Professor Nguyen xuan Vinh and other prominent members of the mainstream.

They met up with councilmembers Forrest Williams, Pete Constant, Pierluigi Oliverio, Kansen Chu, Judy Chirco, Sam Liccardo and Dave Cortese trying to lobby for the Little Saigon. They submitted 4,000 signatures to each of them. At first, Williams, Liccardo, Oliverio, Constant and Cortese promised them they would listen to the wish of the majority and also to the outcome of the survey done by Madison Nguyen's office. In the end, only Chu, Constant and Oliverio kept their promises to support Little Saigon.

The three councilmembers who refused to meet up with them were Madison Nguyen, Nancy Pyle and Nora Campos. The irony of course is both Nguyen and Campos will need the community support to have any chance in advancing their political career.

The refusal by the city council on granting a name that the majority wanted is still a puzzlement. It brought fervor against the council and humilation to Reed. It was a humble sight to see Reed receving lecture from Ly Tong as he came down from the 18th floor in person to a makeshift tent to ask the local activist to stop the hunger strike. Unlike San Jose, San Francisco leaders took a different stand, they not only allowed the Little Saigon to be an official tourist designation but also funded the construction of the gate

In the end, with thousands of people demonstrating (not once but 3 times) without a broken window or a single incident of violence, the city council finally gave in but only with a real threat of a civil rights lawsuit.

Even though they have advanced themselves politically with their voting strength in the last 10 years, they have still not fully realized their ultimate prize. But that will come as their children are about to take over the mantle. And the first time for a very long time, the 1.5 x generation of the community is taking charge and uniting the community more than ever before.

From outside looking in, people are wondering why the intra-ethnic spat, why destroying one of your own in the recall of Madison Nguyen. But to the keen eye, it shows a great confidence and sophistication in the community. They will elect their representatives not because of who they are, but because of what they are. To them, it could be an ethical White, an ethical Hispanic, an ethical Vietnamese-American replacing Nguyen but for Nguyen to be in power and representing the special interest groups of wealthy developers, lobbyists and kingmakers of labor unions (As showed in Nguyen's Form 460 and reported by Mercury News) is to be against all that they have worked so hard and sacrificed for - freedom and democracy.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Vietnamese-Americans in San Jose & Their Politics (Part I of III)

Part I - How many events and shows can one attend?

From the outside looking in, it must have been very confusing to the white folks of San Jose for there are so many events and organizations in community that is still considered to be on the fringe by the white media and white politicians.

Every weekend, there are last 2 - 3 community events to attend. Every association has its own special events at least 2-3 times a year. And there are alot of the associations. There are the Overseas Vietnamese Women's Association, the Northern California Vietnamese-American Association, the Former Political Prisoners' Association, the Association of Vietnamese Policeman, the Association of Vietnamese Veteran, the Association of Vietnamese Officers and Generals and so on so forth. LSI, by just scanning the dozen or so weekly newspapers/magazines in the community, can pull out at least 4 dozens major associations in San Jose ranging from high school alumni to college alumni (Vietnamese high schools and colleges of course), home province associations to professional associations (Mostly doctors, dentists and pharmacists) and the more interesting one is the Youth Association for the Promotion and Protection of the Freedom Flag.

There are hardcore political parties with the goal of overthrowing the Vietnamese government to bring freedom and democracy. Some of the well known ones are headed by Hoang the Dan and Dr. Ngai Nguyen. The one directed by Hoang the Dan is simply known as "The Liberation Front". The People's Party of Vietnam has Dr. Ngai Nguyen as its Vice Chairman. Both these people are strong supporters of the besieged Councilwoman Madison Nguyen.

The younger folks also have their associations from VABA (Vietnamese-American Bar Associations), VACET (Computer and engineer) to VSVN (mostly for hi-tech entrepeneurs). Among them are the more civic minded with their nonprofit foundations like VN-HELP, ICAN, Viet Ecology Foundation and Friends of Hue which focus most of their work in improving the quality of life inVietnam.

The two people in city council who know these associations well of course are Mayor Chuck Reed and former Vice-Mayor Dave Cortese. They have spent so much time at these events in the last 8 years that it is expected by the community to see them show up with their traditional Vietamese dress (ao dai) and pay homage at the ancestral altars along with city commendation certificates. Matter of fact, Reed's scheduler when he was still representing District 4 lamented:" He spent an exorbant amount time with the Vietnamese community! His schedules were always booked with Vietnamese events on weekends."

Unless you are a Vietnamese-American, it would be impossible to understand how a community this relatively small can have so many events every weekend. Just to show how vibrant the community is, LSI went back and counted how many major musical shows in San Jose in 2006. These were professional shows with ticket price ranging from $35 to $100. A total of 78 shows were advertised in newspapers in 2006. This is an astounding number since most shows only performed on weekends.

When it comes to Tet, the bigger associations would have their own celebrations with music, arts and crafts, food and fire crackers. But the two main attractions are at the "Fair Ground" on Tully and the "Tet Festival Parade" in downtown. The "Fair Ground" decided to fold its event after 27 years. Even though they tried to revive it this year on a smaller scale but the cost was too prohibitive to continue for next year. The "Tet Festival Parade" is the biggest one with at least 50,000 people attending with every elected official in the city (including some from the county) showing off their New Year's wave and smile. However, it is also in financial difficulty. With limited sponsorship this year, it would be very challenging for the organizer since they have always providing free entertainment and subsidize the booth costs.

Part II - The Political Connection

Part III - The Savvy, the Manipulator and the Fringe Benefitor