By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
These Colors Don't Wash Feet
Little Saigon's Nguoi Viet Daily News earns anti-commie wrath—again
*This article was modified on March 5, 2008.
Ngo Ky hasn't left the cul-de-sac just north of Bolsa Avenue in downtown Westminster for a month. His car, painted yellow and red in the colors of the former Republic of South Vietnam, is parked across the street from the office of America's largest Vietnamese-language daily newspaper, Nguoi Viet Daily News. Every since Jan. 25, he has been protesting Nguoi Viet "24 hours a day, seven days a week" for one simple reason, Ky says: The newspaper is "communist."
"I sleep here," says Ky, 54, pointing at a tent pitched on the grass next to his car. Lining the sidewalk next to Ky's tent on Feb. 23 are about 20 protesters who march in a circle and wave placards denouncing Nguoi Viet. Protest organizer Doan Truong, a social worker and former South Vietnamese military officer who served as a liaison with the U.S. Embassy, leads the small group in an angry chant.
"Down, down, down, Nguoi Viet!" they chant. "Down, down, down, communists! Shame on you, traitor!"
Ky and other protesters are upset with the newspaper for running a photograph in a special insert magazine timed to celebrate Tet, the lunar New Year, in late January. The photograph was part of a profile of Huynh Thuy Chau, a UC Davis graduate student who recently won a Robert Haas fellowship for her art installation, which included several nail-salon foot-washing tubs painted in the colors of the defunct South Vietnamese republic: a tribute to her mother-in-law, a refugee who put her kids through college on the paychecks she earned washing feet.
But Ky, Doan and other anti-communist activists in Little Saigon say the artwork is an insult, calling it evidence that Nguoi Viet supports the communist government of Vietnam. Although the newspaper's board of directors fired editor Vu Anh and managing editor Hao-Nhien Vu shortly after the complaints began coming in, protesters want the paper to hold a public meeting to explain their actions. "We want a guarantee, a promise that this won't happen again in the future," Doan says. "Fifty-eight thousand Americans died to protect this flag. Why did [Nguoi Viet] betray us? My friends sacrificed their lives during the war."
Anh Do, Nguoi Viet's publisher, who stepped in to edit the paper after its board of directors fired Vu Anh, did not respond to interview requests. But Hao-Nhien Vu—whose blown-up, defaced photograph still decorates placards at the protests—said it was he who discovered Huynh's artwork and suggested the newspaper run a story about her.
"I had no sense it would be controversial," he says. "But people don't think you should put the flag on something dirty. As soon as somebody told me that, I realized. People came up to me. My mom thought it was inappropriate; my dad did. It's not an extreme position to think it was inappropriate."
Denouncing journalists for being soft on communism is nothing new in Little Saigon. For the past several months, similar crowds have surrounded the Garden Grove offices of Viet Weekly, a glossy Vietnamese-language alternative weekly that published an essay last May by a former Vietcong guerrilla who celebrated Ho Chi Minh as a "cultural hero" and blamed the 9/11 attacks on U.S. imperialism (see "Red Scare in Little Saigon," Aug. 17, 2007). Two decades ago, a murky right-wing death squad with ties to Orange County murdered several Vietnamese-American journalists around the country, also sending death threats to Nguoi Viet publisher Anh Do's father, Yen Do, who founded the newspaper (see "A History of Violence," Aug. 17, 2007).
Few Vietnamese-Americans have earned the wrath of anticommunists more than Truong Van Tran, a former Little Saigon video store owner who showed up at the protest Saturday. In 1999, tens of thousands of protesters surrounded his shop when he refused to remove a photograph of Ho Chi Minh from the wall above his counter. (Tran was eventually arrested for video piracy and now runs a fish farm in Vietnam.) "I'm not a communist," Tran told reporters at the protest. "I want the media to tell the truth."
In the spirit of their peaceful demonstration, the Feb. 23 protesters don't seem to mind Tran's appearance. "I want to hear what he says and have a good laugh," Ky, a friend of State Assemblyman Van Thai Tran (R-Garden Grove) and five-time Republican Party national convention delegate, says. "I want the communists to come here. Don't be a chameleon and change your colors. I say, stand up. That's why I don't like Nguoi Viet."