The old flag has three red stripes on a field of yellow, and one can see it flying outside Vietnamese businesses in City Heights during such community celebrations as the festival at Tet, the lunar new year, which falls in late January or early February. Van Tran says nothing in his and Ducheny's resolution would make it illegal to publicly fly the flag of the current regime, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. That flag has a yellow star on a field of red. Tran calls it "the blood flag." However, he tells me, "a man named Truong Tran [no relation] flew it and placed a picture of Ho Chi Minh inside his store in the city of Westminster in 1999. People demonstrated against him for 53 straight days. I'm talking more than 20,000 people at a time."
When Vietnam's consul general in San Francisco recently protested the flag resolution, Tran wrote back (the letter is on his website) defending the action vigorously. "Most Vietnamese-Americans," he wrote, "having fled persecution from your nation, find the display of the 'yellow star on red background' flag to be insulting, offensive and culturally insensitive. You will note that support for the nationalist flag is not without precedent in America: it is proudly hoisted at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, and has been formally recognized by over 80 local jurisdictions and eight states across this country."
But San Jose City College's Vu-Duc says that Senate Concurrent Resolution 17 is unnecessary and presumptuous. "Not necessary," he says, "because the First Amendment allows anyone to fly any flag or symbol.... Presumptuous, because Tran and the minority who support him claim to speak for all Vietnamese-Americans in California. Simply put, they want to impose their 1975 political agenda on a much more diverse and nuanced Vietnamese-American community of 2005."
Tony Nguyen works for the American Friends Service Committee in Oakland. He gave written testimony against Senate Concurrent Resolution 17 when it came before the legislature on May 25. The bill, he wrote, "will further silence the diverse viewpoints and political opinions within the Vietnamese community in California, especially those that are believed to be sympathetic to the current government of Vietnam.... The political reality of the [old flag] is that it has been and continues to be a symbol of terror and violence to many Vietnamese Americans in California."
During the 1980s in California, Nguyen wrote, anticommunist Vietnamese-Americans murdered a number of progressives. He calls them "political killings." According to veteran newspaper reporter William Kleinknecht, writing for the American Journalism Review in December 1999, five Vietnamese journalists "were killed in California, Texas and Virginia between 1980 and 1991. Police believe all were slain by an anti-Communist group with ties to the former South Vietnamese Army." Kleinknecht goes on to highlight the case of Tap Van Pham, publisher of a Vietnamese-language magazine who "dared to run an advertisement for a currency-exchange company perceived as being sympathetic to Hanoi. He was killed August 9, 1987, when an arsonist set fire to the building that housed his home and office in Garden Grove.... A group calling itself the Vietnamese Party to Exterminate the Communists and Restore the Nation sent a communiqué to police claiming responsibility for the murder, although it did not indicate whether the advertisement had prompted the attack."
On December 10, 1989, the Boston Globe Magazine ran a story about the right-wing intimidation practices among California's Vietnamese population. As part of its coverage, the Globe wrote of demonstrations against lectures Le Ly Hayslip gave in Orange County.
"People even started showing up at my home," says Hayslip. "I became so worried about my children that eventually I moved to San Francisco for a while. When the Boston Globe wrote its story, reporters spent a week with me. Their article showed that the right wing thinks anyone who disagrees with them is a communist. The anticommunists killed some Vietnamese-American journalists. That was a long time ago, but people in our communities remember, and they are afraid to speak up. I think only about 20 percent of Vietnamese-Californians support the right wing. They're mostly the older people and some of the young ones who've been brainwashed," she says.
"But the silent majority is intimidated," she goes on. "The war ended 30 years ago. It's time to move on. We need to practice compassion. There are so many terrible things happening in this world."
But Assemblyman Van Tran tells me that most Vietnamese-Americans are opposed to Hayslip's attitude toward the current regime. As evidence, he cites the demonstrations against her lectures years ago.
Visions of the old Vietnam hang on in the Vietnamese-American community today. The Government of Free Vietnam is an organization dedicated to, its website says, "dismantling the Communist dictatorship of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam." In January, it held its National People's Convention in Orange County, according to Tony Nguyen. "All of this group's operations," he wrote to the assembly, "including its admitted violent activities, are carried out under the flag of the former Republic of Vietnam in direct violation of the U.S. Neutrality Act, which forbids [American] citizens from conspiring against any country with which the United States is not at war."