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VietAm City Council Candidates Face Extra Scrutiny in San Jose

AsianWeek, Posted: Jun 03, 2008

SAN JOSE, Calif. In the wake of the dramatic falling out between a faction of the substantial San Jose Vietnamese community and Madison Nguyen, the first Vietnamese American female elected official in the state, Vietnamese American candidates for City Council will be confronted with intense scrutiny from their own when voters cast their ballots on June 3, reports AsianWeek. If elected, they will likely face large expectations from the Vietnamese community, especially surrounding the controversial naming of the Vietnamese retail area along the citys Story Road.

Last November, Madison Nguyen, viewed by many as the sole voice of the District 7 Vietnamese community, faced an outcry after she voted against designating the retail area Little Saigon, opting instead for Saigon Business District. Activist voices, notably from the group San Jose Voters for Democracy, threatened to recall her, declaring Nguyens political practices undemocratic and misleading, and accusing her of favoring special interest groups over the majority opinion.

Nguyen has countered that her decision was based upon a silent majority opinion comprised of business owners and non-Vietnamese residents. Though the controversy has died down following an agreement between activists and the city to hang Little Saigon signage without officially naming the district, the three Vietnamese American candidates vying for the District 8 City Council position still may not be able to escape its aftermath. While preparing for their City Council campaigns, both insurance agent Van Le and entrepreneur Minh Duong publicly supported and attended Little Saigon rallies and protests.

On the other hand, Lan Nguyen, now vice president of the East Side Union School Board, chose to remain neutral, stating that, though he is proud of his Vietnamese heritage, his current board position has stressed other issues as higher priority. According to Lan Nguyen, the Madison Nguyen controversy forced the larger community to acknowledge the passion the Vietnamese community still holds for issues regarding the American legacy of their former homeland. It highlighted the challenges and large expectations that this years Vietnamese American candidates will face as well. You have to be really careful about how you work with the [Vietnamese] community. One misstep and youre done,

Lan Nguyen remarked matter-of-factly, Some [Vietnamese community members] do not understand that you have to serve everybody, not only Vietnamese interests, when youre elected. As Madison Nguyens term has demonstrated, the three District 8 candidates as well as Bui Thang, a Vietnamese District 2 candidate, will have to tread carefully if they want to avoid the clout of the Vietnamese community turned against them.

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