Nguyen vs. Nguyen race in California. Highlights the rise of Vietnamese American voters

Although the result of the race for California’s 72nd Assembly District is still up in the air, one thing is certain: a woman with the surname “Nguyen” will prevail.

Taking place in an area in Southern California, home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam, the contest is against Republican Janet Nguyen, 44, former state senator, 45-year-old Democrat Deidre Nguyen, a carnivist who lives in Garden Grove. Is a member. City Council. The race reflects not only the political stature the Vietnamese American community has built over the past 30 years, but also the changes within it.

“You don’t usually see two Vietnamese American women who have political experience, both running against each other, one as a Democratic and one as a Republican,” Linda Trin Vo, one at the University of California Asian American professor, Irwin pointed out. NBC Asian America.

While Little Saigon has historically been a dark red neighborhood in the former Republican stronghold of Orange County, Vo said the community is far from a conservative monolith and is now diverse in terms of age, class, gender, and political affiliation.

“Now we’re looking at politicians who are representative of that diversity,” she said.

In the “jungle primary” – both women defeated the male incumbent, who is also Vietnamese – in which either party’s top two candidates advance to the general election. As of Wednesday afternoon, Janet Nguyen, the Republican, was ahead by nearly 8 percentage points.

After the fall of Saigon in 1975, South Vietnamese refugees were settled in the city of Westminster in Southern California, which later expanded to nearby Garden Grove, Fountain Valley and Santa Ana. Socially conservative and staunch communist, these first-generation immigrants from Little Saigon – many of whom were small-business owners – gravitated to the Republic Party.

Nationwide, Vietnamese Americans also tend to be more conservative than other Asian groups. According to a survey released in September by research firm AAPI Data, those who favored President Donald Trump on a sole basis were 48% to 36 percent. But like the rest of Orange County – whose entire congressional delegation went blue in 2018 – Little Saigon has become more liberal over the past decade, albeit slowly. Prior to the election last week, Republicans in the 72nd District held only a 2-point advantage in voter registration.

Vo is largely driven by young people.

Orange County’s registered Vietnamese voters have more than 17,000 Democrats aged 18 to 34, while only 5,000 are Republicans, according to bipartisan voter data company Political Data Inc. For some activists, the assembly race between Genesee Nguyen and Daidre Nguyen is a sign. is. On the left, generational changes that will become more apparent.

“The fact that this race is contrary to the fact that [Little Saigon] The GOP is still a stronghold for voters, ”said Tracy La, executive director of a youth-led progressive organizing group formed before mid-2018.

As in other Asian American subgroups, Vietnamese American youth have converged around social justice issues, La said. In June, Black and Vietnamese organizers challenged 3,000 people in Garden Grove to protest police brutality.

Given the growing proportion of animated young voters, La said, it was an inaccurate chance that neither candidate was focusing their campaign on racial justice or immigration reform.

Over the summer, during a spike in the Kovid-19 case numbers, the Trump administration deported 30 Vietnamese immigrants and refugees. Many residents, La said, are still afraid of being separated from their families and detained in unequal facilities. (Both candidates put economic issues at the forefront of their campaigns, promising to save small businesses, expand rental assistance and raise money for schools.)

Vo stated that the high level of political participation in Little Saigon is almost unique in many Asian enclaves of the country.

In 1992, Westminster City Council member Tony Lam, a Republican, became the first Vietnamese elected to a public position in the US In 2014, Janet Nguyen became the country’s first Vietnamese state senator. (After losing the electoral bid once again in 2018, he ran for the lower position.) Four years later, two dozen Vietnamese candidates – 13 with the surname Nguyen – ran for a host of local and state offices, including The sheriff was also involved. . In Westminster today, Vietnamese Americans occupy four of the five city council seats.

“Our community is financially and residential-focused,” Vo said, noting that families live, work and shop in the same neighborhood. “This enables us to build a political base.”

The politics of Vietnamese voters, according to Voice and La, “is not as simple as” anti-communist against progressive youth. ” For a population with deep refugee roots, the shadow of homeland politics still looms large, with elected officials called la “red-fodder”.

In September, Orange County Democratic Party Vice Chairman Jeff Letterniew resented the members of both parties for resuming a Facebook post celebrating Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh. Both Janet Nguyen and Didre Nguyen immediately condemned the incident.

The dispute sparked an already strained relationship between Little Saigon and the state’s Democratic leadership. In June, Gov. Gavin Newsom made an unproven claim that the spread of coronovirus began in a nail salon, reflecting an industry dominated by Vietnamese Americans.

Fred Whitaker, president of the Orange County Republican Party, said the Vietnamese diaspora is “a very important segment of our electorate” and a very dynamic segment of the county “both commercially and culturally”.

The Republican Party said, the Democratic Party long ago recognized the power of Vietnamese and Asian American voters by incorporating in-language advertisements into its operations and recruiting Asian American candidates for local office.

Michelle Steele, a Korean-American Republican in the Orange County Board of Supervisors, took out an ad with prominent Little Saigon politicians during her successful bid to win a losing congressional seat in 2018. (The Democratic Congress Campaign Committee, meanwhile, released its first Vietnamese-language advertisement targeting it on a Vietnamese cable channel.)

Assembly member Young Kim, another Korean American Republican, is on track to win a congressional seat in a district previously held by a Democrat. In two other county and city races, Republican Asian American candidates are also close to victory.

“It shows that Asian American Republicans are identifying with the message that is being delivered by someone in their community,” Whitaker said.

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