On June 22, 2015, the Seattle City Council considered a resolution for the City of Seattle to formally recognize the South Vietnamese flag as the symbol of the Vietnamese community of Seattle. There is no question that the tremendous contribution of the Vietnamese community to Seattle must be recognized. However, for the Council, as the elected body of the city, choosing the South Vietnamese flag brings up far more complicated questions. Here is the speech I made to explain my no vote.
It is great to see City Hall packed with so many people from one of the many communities which make Seattle lively, colorful, and thriving. Communities that have played a significant role in Seattle’s fight for justice, against racism, and for the rights of the immigrant community and all people of color.
And as an immigrant woman of color myself, I identify with many of your sentiments.
Your contribution to the culture, development, and economic prosperity of Seattle is strong and needs to be fully acknowledged. Not just acknowledged, but celebrated.
I have great respect for the Vietnamese community, and the thousands of Vietnamese people who have immigrated to the Seattle area.
I am fully aware of the hardships, great suffering, and tragedy of the thousands who immigrated here.
The Vietnam War saw millions killed, and tens of thousands of US soldiers dead. Many more Vietnamese and American people were wounded, and impacted for life.
The struggle against colonial rule and domination of Vietnam by foreign powers took many complicated and twisted turns. It led to suffering and tragedies on all sides.
All people in Seattle with its valued Vietnamese community need to be more aware of this history and this heritage.
So many people have faced this tragedy, and its continuing memory. That is why I honestly believe that this resolution is not completely worked out.
I fully support the first part of the resolution, where it says: “The City of Seattle honors its local Vietnamese community’s history, contributions, and achievements.”
Unfortunately, I think the subsequent portions, where all of that respect and acknowledgement is put in terns of support for one flag, is not reflective of the complicated history and the high emotions still linked to so much hardship and suffering on different sides.
The flags of the different sides — first of the anti-colonial struggle and then of the American Vietnam War — still today, evoke tragic emotions and hurtful memories.
Members of the Vietnamese-American community, as all of you here, are free to attach your own meanings to the flag. It is your right in a democracy. The City Council, however, as the city’s highest elected body, has a duty to not uncritically endorse these projections and interpretations in the name of the entire city without a fuller understanding of the history of the flag.
I personally believe that it is a mistake for the City Council to endorse the flag of the former South Vietnam, a flag that is highly controversial and painful to many.
I know many have strong opposition to the undemocratic regime in Vietnam today. I share this feeling.
I stand for full democratic rights for the Vietnamese people, and against the Vietnamese government’s suppression of independent trade unions, free speech, and political assembly.
The US government, and big corporations, are only too happy with today’s Vietnamese government suppressing workers’ rights, which allows US-based corporations to profit from giant sweatshops at the expense of Vietnamese workers and American workers.
That is one reason I oppose the Obama administration’s efforts to push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would include Vietnam in the so-called trade agreement.
But when it comes to democracy, the former South Vietnamese government was also a dictatorship.
The US war and occupation of Vietnam, was totally undemocratic, and was fought to suppress the right of the Vietnamese people to determine their own fate.
The US war in Vietnam, which killed millions of Vietnamese people and tens of thousands of US soldiers, was opposed by a majority of Americans, and the majority of the people in Vietnam and across the world.
I think that as an elected body of a major metropolitan area we have a duty to support these anti-war activists of the past, and of the present, and all of those who will have the courage to oppose wars in the future.
While having the greatest respect for the Vietnamese community in Seattle, I am unable to vote for a resolution that ties this community’s recognition to a particular flay that is mired in controversy.
On the one hand, it connects rightful aspirations and hopes that many of you have.
On the other hand, for others, it connects to a history of colonial oppression, and a war brought to Vietnam by the United States. A war like so many before and afterward, like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which were started with high claims of defending humanitarian interests, but which were later on exposed as very narrow battles in the interests, not of the people of those countries or of the people of the US, but in the interests of a tiny elite.
Again, I have the deepest respect for the contribution of the Vietnamese community, and your strong impact. I honor the rich heritage that you are bringing to the US, and especially to this city. I am strongly in favor of learning and teaching much more about this history and all its connotations. And as an immigrant, and as an elected public servant, I stand in solidarity with you to make Seattle a welcoming and affordable city for all.
I invite you, all of you, very sincerely, to continue a dialogue with me about these complicated issues, so that we can take a balanced and careful stance after all the suffering and hardships your families and the people in Vietnam have gone through.
Thank you very much for interest and engagement in City Hall. Please understand my position as a starting point for more exchange and discussion. My door is always open for you, and I am looking forward to deepening my understanding on these issues, regardless of our disagreement on this present matter. Thank you.