Four years ago Madison Nguyen was elected to the San Jose City Council, reportedly the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to political office in California. San Jose is the tenth largest city in the U.S., and nearly 10% of city residents are of Vietnamese descent.
Today Nguyen is fighting for her political life, facing a recall over an issue that has divided the city’s Vietnamese residents. The March 3rd special election will cost the city $500,000. If the recall is successful, it will cost another $500,000 to hold another special election to fill the seat. Nguyen has raised about $200,000 to fight the recall; her opponents have raised $100,000. The election will only involve voters from Nguyen’s district, three-fourths of whom are not Vietnamese.
What damning issue has aroused Nguyen’s opponents, many of whom consider her a traitor to the Vietnamese community? What unforgivable insult caused one protester to conduct a four-week hunger strike? What political sin did the councilwoman commit that drove more than 5000 constituents to sign recall petitions?
It’s about the nickname for a city neighborhood around Story Road with predominantly Vietnamese stores and restaurants. In January 2008 November 2007 the city council voted between two proposed nicknames. Many residents want the neighborhood to be known as “Little Saigon.” Nguyen and the majority of the city council preferred the monikor “Saigon Business District.”
This nonsense, on which the city and its residents will waste between $1 and $2 million, reminds me of a scene from the Star Trek episode, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.” Bele, a police commissioner from the planet Cheron, has been chasing a political fugitive named Lokai for 50,000 years. Bele tries to explain to the Enterprise crew why he and his opponent are mortal enemies.
- Bele: It is obvious to the most simple-minded that Lokai is of an inferior breed
- Spock: The obvious visual evidence, Commissioner, is that he is of the same breed as yourself.
- Bele: Are you blind, Commander Spock? Well, look at me. Look at me.
- Kirk: You are black on one side and white on the other.
- Bele: I am black on the right side.
- Spock: I fail to see the significant difference…
- Bele: Lokai is white on the right side. All of his people are white on the right side.