Vietnam Americans Gave their Supports for President Donald Trump

Why are Vietnamese Americans so divided over Trump?

In the days leading up to the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, when communist North Vietnamese forces captured South Vietnam, marking the end of the Vietnam War – and in the weeks and years following that day – around 800,000 Vietnamese left their homes and fled on rickety fishing boats.

Among those who did not manage to flee, hundreds of thousands who were aligned with the former South Vietnamese government and army – on whose side the United States had fought during the war – were captured. They became prisoners in communist re-education camps where they faced torture, severe malnutrition and death.

Today, close to two million Vietnamese Americans – former refugees and their descendants – live in the US. They are the fourth-largest Asian-American population in the country.

In the years since the end of the Vietnam War, Vietnamese Americans – particularly the older generation – have typically aligned themselves with the Republican party because of the GOP’s fervent anti-communist stance dating back to the war.

Many say they will vote for US President Donald Trump in the election, and Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote polls show that Vietnamese Americans are the only major Asian ethnic group that has a net favourability rating for US President Donald Trump.

For the past several weeks, Vietnamese Americans have gathered across the US to show their support for Trump, including large groups who travelled in caravans to Washington, DC in October to rally in front of the White House and the Supreme Court.

Vietnamese American Trump supporters confront Biden supporters at a rally on October  24, 2020 at Eden Center in Falls Church, Virginia, one of the oldest Vietnamese food destinations in the Washington, DC area. Wounds from the Vietnam war and the fall of Saigon in 1975, when communism took over South Vietnam, are still raw and felt by the community [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]

“A large part of this has been his rhetoric and anti-communist ‘tough on China’ message that resonates with a conservative community that views communism and Chinese imperialism with great disdain.”

One of the most contentious issues within the Vietnamese-American community is the mistaken belief that as a senator Biden opposed accepting Vietnamese refugees after the war. In October, Biden addressed this misconception in an op-ed in a popular Vietnamese-language newspaper.

But for many Vietnamese, that will not be enough to change their opinion. Here, Vietnamese Americans explain who they will be voting for and why.

Matthew Truong, 53 – ‘We don’t want the US to be a communist country’

Matthew Truong says he is living the ‘American dream’ [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]
Matthew Truong arrived in the US alone as a 12-year-old boat refugee in 1980 with two sets of clothes and two words of English. His family later joined him in the US.

He received a master’s degree in electrical engineering and has run successful tech startups for the past 26 years. Over the summer, he ran for US Congress in northern Virginia but lost the nomination after a competitive race. He says he is living the “American dream”.

Truong supports Trump and believes the Democratic party and, in particular, Kamala Harris, the Democratic party’s vice presidential candidate, leans too far to the left.

“We look at Biden, and … particularly Harris. Actually, she is a lot more left than Bernie [Sanders]. And so if Bernie is a progressive socialist, a democratic, whatever the terms you want to use, she is to the left of that, therefore, she’s leaning toward communism,” he says.

“We escaped from communism, we lost Vietnam to communists, we escaped from it as boat people, we arrived here and rebuilt our lives again.

“We knew communism, us Vietnamese. And so therefore, we do not want the United States to be a communist country.”

He believes the Democratic party has moved leftwards since the 1990s and “that’s why on the conservative side you see a lot more non-political conservatives coming out”.

Truong says there is more enthusiasm among Vietnamese Americans for this election than there was in 2016.

“They know that they don’t want communism. They lived under it; they feel passionate about it and angry. And the way to get the anger out is to vote and we have done that in droves already.”

Trung Phan, 32 – ‘He brings us another dream’

Trung Phan says he knows what it is like to live under communism [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]
Trung Phan arrived in the US 12 years ago, joining family members who had fled after the war. He now has his own IT business in northern Virginia.

Because he was born after the war, he says he knows what it is like to live under communism.

“Twenty years under communism was like living under a blanket – all information about the outside world was under control,” he says.

“We can’t talk about the government because they have agents all around your neighbourhood. You can’t talk negatively about the government and leadership or you end up in the police station.”

Phan was not at all interested in politics until 2016, when he voted for Trump.

“He brings us another dream, that you can be a president; maybe my kids can be president, too. We love this country, we came here with empty hands but now that has changed, we have opportunities,” he says with a smile while sitting on his white Harley-Davidson motorcycle in a parking lot at the Fairfax County Government Center, the last stop of a “Trump Train” parade and rally that took place earlier in the day.

Kathy Tran, 42 – ‘This is the most consequential election of our lifetimes’

Kathy Tran at a Vietnamese Americans for Biden rally [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]
Kathy Tran was an infant when, in 1980, she fled Vietnam by boat with her parents and arrived in the US. She is a Democrat, mother of five, and the first Vietnamese American elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.

She decided to enter politics immediately after Trump’s 2017 inauguration. Before then, she worked as a civil servant at the US Department of Labor for 12 years and then in immigration and advocacy. She says she could no longer stand on the sidelines.

“In Virginia, we have an election every year. And I think we’ve always said, ‘This is the year that is really important to come out and vote’. But truly, this is the most consequential election of our lifetimes. And I think any issue that affects our daily lives – whether it’s healthcare access, public education, the [COVID-19] pandemic – the differences between Joe Biden and Donald Trump are so great,” Tran says.

Another important issue for Tran is immigration and how undocumented migrants are contributing to the country’s economy and social and cultural fabric every day. “When we came as Vietnamese boat refugees to this country, I think public opinion at that time didn’t want to accept us. And it was because of the generosity and the moral leadership that everyday people and political leaders and faith leaders showed that made us feel welcome. And we have to have that moral courage now.”

Christina Nguyen, 58 – ‘I’m not afraid to speak up about supporting the president’

Trump supporter Christina Nguyen worried that after eight years under President Barack Obama, the US would slide into socialism [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]
Christina Nguyen, a stay-at-home mother and former realtor, came to the US from Saigon in 1975.

She stands near her car, which is adorned with a “Women for Trump” sign and US flags, and is parked in a high school parking lot in Manassas, Virginia on a September morning where a “Trump Train” parade is about to take off. The crowd in the background chants “USA! USA! USA!”

She was never interested in politics until Obama left the White House, “[but] after eight years of Obama, I was afraid that this beautiful country would turn into a socialist country,” she says.

Nguyen says she believes in hard work and that her parents found a job shortly after they arrived in the US. “They didn’t stay at home waiting for the government to take care of them,” she says.

Nguyen is supporting Trump because “you can see that for the past four years, whatever he did, he always did it for the country and he always did it for the American people”.

She says she does not want to think about a Biden-Harris presidency. “Look at Kamala Harris. She is so towards the left. AOC [Democrat Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] already said that if Biden becomes president, she will push him into making the socialists stronger.”

Nguyen says she became more politically active and vocal during the weeks leading up to the election – especially on Facebook, where she maintains a popular page about Trump. She says that she gets blocked by Facebook at least once a month from posting on her page, but adds: “I’m not afraid to speak up in supporting the president.”

Minh Dang, 58 – ‘Trump has been on the outside’

Minh Dang attends a Trumptilla Boat Parade along the Potomac River, in Alexandria, Virginia over Labor Day weekend in September 2020 [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]
Minh Dang was once registered as a Democrat but switched to the Republican party when George H Bush became president.

“One of the things that really ignites my posture towards President Trump is that he has a deep belief in the higher being,” he says. “That also gives me a lot of encouragement and motivation to see that like him, I make mistakes, I say things, I get upset, I yell at people. But who doesn’t?”

“I think Trump probably understands the ‘outside the Beltway’ attitude, he’s been on the outside,” he adds.

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