Why the faulty South Vietnam flag was hoisted in the capital riot

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Ensures the impact of Confederate and neo-Nazi imagery defined the riots on January 6 in the US Capitol. But for Vietnamese Americans, it is the vision of a flawed flag – representing a country that existed nearly half a century ago – that raised painful questions about the identity, trauma, and legacy of US imperialism.

The yellow and red-striped banners of former South Vietnam flew above the crowd of rioters at the Capitol Ground. Many flag bearers were Vietnamese Americans, who, in support of President Donald Trump, have often used the symbol to express their indifference to a lost home and opposition to communism.

Seattle-based real estate broker Michelle Lee wrote in a Facebook post, “This flag is for me an anti-Communist flag.” “It reminds me of my roots and heritage. I lived through communism and I know the tyranny and the pain that occurred in many families.” (He declined to comment.)

But community advocates who saw the South Vietnamese flag, or yellow flag, as a symbol of democracy and unity, its presence in the riots was worrying and misleading.

Tung Nguyen, president of the Progressive Vietnamese American Organization, or PIVOT, said, “Thoughts of authoritarianism to reverse the will of the people, these are not principles.” “It’s about our being independent, and Trump is not someone you can free. White supremacy is not the thing under which you can be free.”

Supporters of President Donald Trump congregate outside the US Capitol on 6 January.Taifun Koskun / Anadolu Agency via Getty Image

For Vietnamese Americans, the yellow flag represents many, often confrontational, aspects of the refugee experience. For decades, people have used it to express hatred for a communist regime that drove them out of their country. This sentiment also fueled the group’s long-standing loyalty to the Republican Party. (Vietnamese Americans were the only Asian group to favor Trump over President-Elect Joe Biden in November.)

“The big worm on the right” could open for diaspora Indians, which is the flag’s increased visibility, “said Thoy Vo Dang, an ethnic studies professor and curator for the Southeast Asian archaeologist at the University of California, Irvine. Seen up to Australia At the “Stop the Steel” rally, a far-reaching campaign that alleges widespread voter fraud against the umpire.)

“On the one hand, it is a political symbol,” he said, noting that the meaning of the banner has shifted over the years, based on “whose voice is the loudest.” “But on the other hand, it is a very affectionate and passionate personal attachment that many people in the refugee community have towards it.”

Communist North Vietnam defeated the US-backed South in 1975, settling scores of South Vietnamese refugees in the US. In Vietnam, the red flag of the north replaced their yellow. In the 1990s, Vietnamese American leaders began lobbying local elected officials to recognize the defiance banner as the “Heritage and Freedom Flag” to represent the displaced foreign community. More than 20 states have adopted resolutions to do so.

Supporters of President Donald Trump gather in front of the US Capitol on 6 January.Stephanie Keith / Reuters

Today, the flag is a permanent, sacred fixture in important cultural events, including the Lunar New Year, or festivals, acting as the totems of solidarity and rebirth. It has allowed people to reminisce about their former lives, Vo Dang said, while giving them the strength to create new avenues for their adopted home.

But as another symbol of national pride, allegiance to the South Vietnamese banner has also deepened divisions within the group.

In 1999, more than 10,000 residents of Westminster, a Vietnamese American enclave in Southern California, packed the streets in violent protest when a video store owner displayed a poster of the revolutionary communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, with a red flag. On college campuses, domestic and international students have fought over which Vietnamese flag should be hoisted at the graduation ceremony.

Nguyen of PIVOT said it is important to acknowledge that the debate’s anger often arises from involuntary trauma.

“Many of our elders believe that they suffered a lot in Vietnam and during the transition and are suffering from things like communism,” Nguyen said. “Their feelings are so strong that they don’t always see what the real cause of their grief is.”

Deep spots within the Vietnamese American community – along class, age and ideological lines – largely mirror those in American society, a historian and author of “Return of War: South Vietnam and the Price of Refugee Memory” .

“Most Vietnamese Americans are truly independent, but Republicans are the most visible,” he said. The younger generation is strongly progressive, he said, but ethnic media elevates conservative voices. The flag, however, “reflects concerns of past and present and future” to the community, he said. One way to move forward is to recognize the dangers of hypernationalist thinking.

The controversy about the flag’s alignment with right-wing causes, Vo Dang said, gives Vietnamese Americans the opportunity to interrogate accepted narratives about their past.

“Our relationship to America has always been informed by its role in Vietnam and its so-called role as a ‘savior’ for us as refugees,” she said. He said that for the Vietnamese refugees to be “forever indebted” to their adopted country, he said how US military intervention contributed to the destruction of their homeland.

“So when Trump says loyalty to him is tantamount to loyalty to America,” he said, “some people actually think they are ‘freedom fighters’ to uphold democracy.”

After the events of last week, many young people To explain and explain Banner’s values ​​began to question the unwavering loyalty of his elders.

“This is a start for us,” Vo Dang said, “to get our leaders to work and ask, ‘How can you help us create spaces for conversations about our difficult past such as “This flag is about freedom” or “This flag is about hate” without reducing it to a one-liner? “”

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