An assortment of local politicians and community members gathered in the City Hall rotunda late last month to pay their respects at the 38th “Black April,” a ceremony to honor and remember the Vietnamese diaspora and fall of Saigon. By most respects, it was a solemn occasion that showed respect and solidarity.
And then the Mercury News had to go and ruin everything.
The Merc’s Internal Affairs column reported on Sunday that councilmembers Kansen Chu, Ash Kalra and Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen were in attendance. The Merc then noted that Nguyen is the first and only Vietnamese-American councilmember, as well as the “Little Saigon” controversy and a failed recall effort against Nguyen. Having mentioned the previous riff, the paper supplied the following vanilla quote:
“Many of the youth who helped organized the event are supporters of mine,” Nguyen told the paper, adding that a Vietnamese deputy police chief thanked her for coming.
The Vietnamese American Roundtable (VAR), which hosted the event, took issue with that statement. In a press release challenging the IA column, VAR included this shot across the bow:
“VAR wishes to clarify that it does not take any position supporting or endorsing Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen, or any candidate for public office. Vice Mayor Nguyen’s statement that ‘many of the youth who helped organized [sic] the event are supporters of mine’ is therefore counter to the VAR’s intention that the 38th Black April Commemoration and the efforts of its members are not used to advance any political agenda or campaign. The statement is also not accurate.”
There you have it. After a seemingly innocuous quote from Nguyen, all that “can’t we all just get along” talk appears to have been thrown out the window.
Nguyen told San Jose Inside that she had to leave the event early and her comments were made by email to Merc reporter Peter Delevett after the event. So, is this a case of an isolated quote being taken out of context and blown out of proportion? Nguyen seemed to want to squash the whole thing.
“I want to commend members and volunteers of the Vietnamese American Roundtable for hosting the 38th Black April Commemoration at City Hall,” she wrote in an email to SJI. “As a former refugee, the event meant a lot to me. I am always grateful for those who made tremendous sacrifices during the Vietnam War so that the younger generation could enjoy the freedom that we have today.”
The VAR’s press release noted that the organization encourages members to give their individual opinions but not speak for VAR as a whole. The release added that VAR wanted to thank councilmembers Chu and Kalra for their “sponsorship, time and staff support in organizing this event,” but made no mention of county Supervisor Dave Cortese, who you’d be crazy to think was not in attendance.
It will be interesting to see if this PR dust-up in the Vietnamese community has any affect on the District 2 county supervisor race, which—for all intents and purposes—is a two-person contest between Teresa Alvarado and Cindy Chavez, both of whom also attended the event.
Nguyen endorsed Alvarado’s candidacy, and there is a belief in campaign circles that Nguyen’s ability to rally votes in the Vietnamese community for Alvarado could play a key role in the June 4 primary vote totals.