Yesterday, hundreds of anti-communist protestors bussed from Little Saigon to Riverside to picket like they're wont to do. They converged on the Riverside City Hall for a day, and for a few hours in the mild weather rallied against a sister-city relationship between Riverside and Can Tho, the fourth largest city in Vietnam. Can Tho is a beautiful city in the Mekong Delta, located in the far south of Vietnam. It's known for its floating marketplace and giant bridge–much nicer to visit than Riverside. It's also my dad's hometown.
These protests are now as much a part of OC as the swallows returning to Capistrano. They happen every time even a hint of communism appears within driving distance. It happened to the Viet Weekly in 2007, Nguoi Viet shortly after, the city of Irvine early last year, and they'll happen again the next time someone decides to hang up a Communist Vietnamese flag. For the Riverside protest, they took three charter buses and dozens of vans from Orange County, meeting up with the much smaller Vietnamese populations in the Inland Empire. There were about 250 people.
For those of you who don't quite understand why these protests happen, let me try to explain. The basic part of the story is simple: There was a war, one side won, and hundreds of thousands of people fled.
War is traumatic. People died, families were destroyed. For many of the Vietnamese that live in the area (a lot of kids have been born since the boat people), the communist government now is the government that shot at them all those years ago. They never got an apology, and they will never stop protesting, even as their numbers dwindle with time. The idea that any city could try to start a direct relationship with a city in a country that stifles free speech and religion is abhorrent–it goes against the very fabric of their beliefs. Until free elections happen, this isn't going to change.
And, at least in the case of Riverside, the protests sort of worked. A city staffer eventually took down a picture of the Vietnamese flag that hung next to Riverside's other sister city's flags. The crowd met with a few city councilmembers who had early last year voted against the relationship (the motion only passed 4-3). The protestors left victorious and hopeful, though it's yet to be seen if Riverside withdraws from its new relationship.
And, yes, while a lot of these protestors are getting older, they're leaving behind a generation that, while not as vocal and not as right wing, understands why they bus out and hold signs.
Among the protestors yesterday was Garden Grove City Councilmember Chris Phan, one of the youngest Vietnamese-American politicians in Orange County (Phat Bui, who is also on the council, was there as well). Coincidentally, he's from Vinh Long, Can Tho's neighbor and the city where my mom was born. He left the country as a child in 1981–the same year my dad did.
"It was the right thing to do," Phan says, on coming out to the protest. It was first time attending one of that kind. "I don't support any agreements with governments that don't respect civil rights and democracy."
And while civil rights and democracy may not come in his or my parents time (It also might, Vietnam gets closer every day), at least it may happen in ours.