According to the LA Times, 24 Vietnamese Americans are running for office in Orange County, CA with 13 of the candidates sharing the same last name.
OK, let’s get this out of the way — It’s a Nguyen Nguyen situation. Now that we got that out of our system, it will be up for debate to see if this Republican heavy area will experience a “blue wave” come the Midterms, but it is definitely experiencing a Nguyen wave.
The LA Times interviewed one of the candidates, Chau Nguyen, as he drives to a strip mall, where there are candidates signs everywhere with the same last name: Janet. Charlie. Tyler. Duke. Tri. Candidates running for a diverse public seats ranging from state senator, city council. The California Assembly and Westminster Mayor.
More from the LA Times:
Thirteen of the candidates share that last name — just like the 38-year-old business consultant from Garden Grove ogling their campaign signs and snapping photos.
“Wow, the signs are everywhere!” exclaimed Chau Nguyen. “I had no idea we had so many possibilities from our community. This is amazing. Why is everyone surfacing now?”
The surge in political candidates in Orange County is happening against a backdrop of intense Asian voter registration drives nationally, including in the largest business and cultural district for Vietnamese Americans outside Vietnam. But it’s also the latest sign of the evolution of the politically precocious Vietnamese American community.
“It shows the power of the Vietnamese at the ballot box, spreading their influence in central O.C. politics,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor of public policy and political science at UC Riverside. “What you’re seeing now is the seed that was planted decades ago when the first Vietnamese ran and succeeded.”
It started with a 1992 victory, when Westminster Councilman Tony Lam became the first Vietnamese-born person to be elected in the U.S.
“Over time, with so many wins, it built the farm team for future candidates…. The numbers have grown so high that people are encouraged to enter the ring,” Ramakrishnan said.
The candidates are concentrated in Fountain Valley, Garden Grove and Westminster — the cities that span Little Saigon. Vietnamese are running not only for prominent roles in city halls and the state Legislature, but for school, water and sanitation districts.
As for why Nguyen is such a prevalent last name for Vietnamese:
It is the most common surname among about 100 Vietnamese last names. Nguyen was the last dynasty in power before Ho Chi Minh and his communist forces took control of North Vietnam in 1945. Historians say more than 5 million Vietnamese answer to Nguyen.
Some Nguyens tire of correcting the pronunciation of their names and decide to Westernize the spelling so that it matches how it sounds: Win or Winn.
Thu-Ha Nguyen, a supervisor in the hematology-oncology department at Quest Diagnostics Inc., an incumbent councilwoman, who’s challenger is Duy Nguyen, said “it can be overwhelming that there are many Vietnamese choices, but that’s why our camp is focused on my first name — Thu-Ha, Thu-Ha. We try to repeat it as well as get the message out for what we stand for — responsible leadership.”
It is also interesting to see the changing tides of party. Vietnamese Americans are a GOP stronghold with most candidates running as Republicans. But as the refugee population ages and their children and grandchildren become more liberal. The GOP Party also sees this trend as Republican leaders pushing for more strategic outreach to grow and maintain their base with setting up Asian outreach groups.
But, why are Vietnamese Americans so politically engaged? As refugees who escaped Communist tyranny after the end of the Vietnam War, many residents see the democratic process as something that they risked their very lives for. For Chau Nguyen, who was interviewed for this piece, he hasn’t made up his mind. But he sums it up well on why the community participation is moving forward:
“We’re from a country that not many people may want to return to, unlike another Asian country like [South] Korea. We don’t have a stable government back home,” he said. “That’s why we want to work to help the government where we live now.”