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‘The Vietnamese Are Coming!’: An Interview with California Congressional District 47’s Van Tran

Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez used Spanish-language TV to play the race card against her Republican challenger, Van Tran. Tim Daniel interviews Tran about Sanchez's actions and where the campaign stands now.

by
Tim Daniel

Bio

September 28, 2010 - 2:06 pm

Encompassing Garden Grove, Santa Ana, Anaheim, and a sliver of Fullerton, California’s 47th Congressional District has retained an on-again, off-again relationship with the national spotlight.

In 1996, stalwart-conservative, nine-term Congressman “B-1 Bob” Dornan lost the 46th District (currently redistricted to CD-47) seat to Democrat Loretta Sanchez. Sanchez, just two years previous, had been elected to the Anaheim City Council as Loretta Brixey. She changed her married name back to her maiden name Sanchez in 1996, a less-than-subtle effort to solicit votes from the area’s burgeoning Hispanic population.

The effort garnered a “win” by 984 votes in ‘96 (of which a majority were found to be cast by illegal immigrants) and put the once obscure district into varying degrees of controversial flux.

Even so, earlier this week, CD-47’s reputation for disputation went parabolic.

Why?

Details lie in a  series of comments made by now six-term Democratic incumbent Loretta Sanchez to the Spanish-only network Univision. Sanchez tossed a rhetorical grenade into the campaign that fragmented across California. Or blew up in her face.

Congresswoman Sanchez thus made several shocking admissions.

A viral YouTube video flickered across screens, showing Sanchez saying that “the Vietnamese and the Republicans are trying to take away this seat from us” and slamming her insurgent Vietnamese-American Republican opponent as “anti-Hispanic.”

Sanchez’s racially tinged twist of Paul Revere’s “the British are coming” came where she evidently thought she was under the radar, on the Spanish-language station. Calculated to miss audiences outside the Spanish audience, it revealed the dark underbelly of a desperate candidate grasping for any justification for re-election. Even she realizes that her lack of accomplishments doesn’t suffice.

As Team Sanchez scrambled to contain the damage from her incredible comments last week, the dynamics of the 47th Congressional District race subsequently changed in a California-minute. A hot topic on conservative talk radio, blogs, and headlines across the nation, the story steamed ahead to an audience from the left to right coast. Dead tree sources such as the Los Angeles Times covered the story typically (for anyone who knows the paper’s institutionalized bias), downplaying the racist flavor of Sanchez’s comments.

One can look no further than recent internal polling from the Van Tran camp last month to substantiate just why the seventh re-election bid for Loretta Sanchez has taken such a bizarre turn.

Does Loretta Sanchez’s, shall we say, colorful recent history, shed some light on the character of the person?

Intimate revelations about her recent past point to one quite comfortable using a position of power for personal gain and otherwise. Partying it out at the Playboy Mansion with Hugh Hefner raised eyebrows in her district, as she has repeatedly claimed a busy schedule keeps her away from constituent-queries and concerns. Hefner even “tweeted” the occasion. “Hunk Night” and bizarre Christmas mailers (like the “Pet The Cat” card, left, or the one featuring her husband from whom she was already legally separated) are also part of Sanchez’s odd repertoire.

Sanchez is seen as something of a sultry “sex-crazed, Latina-poodle,” to borrow a phrase, from those in-the-know, yet her comments strike far beyond the district’s interest in sultry sex and congressional privilege.

CD-47 is home to predominantly blue-collar minorities — 65% Hispanic and nearly 15% Vietnamese. Sanchez’s key vulnerability this November is her perceived lack of accomplishment and effectiveness across all ethnic lines in the district. And despite her myriad attempts of outreach to the Vietnamese community (even dressing in traditional Vietnamese garb at the yearly Tet Festival), her racial comments have now put her at risk of losing a sizeable portion of that vote.

This week I checked out the Van Tran campaign and the unique, multi-faceted man running for Congress.

What I found when I spoke with Assemblyman Tran on Friday is a soft-spoken guy. He is articulate, non-lawyerly (even though a J.D.), and in touch with issues that resonate throughout his district and America – jobs, the economy, the future of the nation. I also found a man that is more than ready, able, and willing to call out his opponent’s recent inflammatory racial admission.

“What would you like to talk about today, Tim? I might have an idea but I’m not sure,” said the assemblyman, jokingly.

I broke the ice: “Well, I’m really not quite sure — a little birdy told me that someone running against a certain someone in Orange County said something quite off-the-reservation.”

We both laughed; it was a great start to an interview.

“Oh yes, our office got a flood of inquiries — we almost couldn’t believe it,” said Van Tran. “We went over the Spanish translation over and over to make sure that what we were reading was true. We couldn’t believe that a veteran member of Congress would go to this length to slander her opponent.”

He continued: “Voters don’t want to see this kind of racial politics — it’s simple. Loretta Sanchez should be talking about jobs and the economy. It was a racial rampage and unbelievable, what she said.”

I asked him whether he took the Loretta Sanchez attack personally or as an attack against his constituents.

“I take it personally, especially that she said I was ‘anti-immigrant,’” he said. “I share the same aspirations and dreams as Hispanic immigrants do.”

This brings us to another amazing aspect of the assemblyman’s congressional run. Born in 1964, Van Tran and and his family narrowly escaped Saigon at the end of the war in Vietnam. Only a week before the fall of Saigon, U.S. troops evacuated the family from the area. They then immigrated to the United States, the American Dream within their grasp.

A local resident touched on this:

“People like Van Tran are a product of industrious refugee parents and carry lessons of hard work, the value of education, and respect for their new country wherever they go,” said William Phinnizy, a resident of CD-47’s Fountain Valley, blogger, and local activist. He continued:

In 1975, when Saigon fell, many — if not most — Vietnamese refugees fled SEA and were accommodated by our government down at the Marine base at Camp Pendleton. They lived in a tent community before being relocated to various parts of the country. Many opted, for example, for the Texas along the Gulf where they augmented the Texas shrimping fleet.

Many moved up to nearby Westminster, California, and opened businesses in an area that became known as Little Saigon, where Van Tran still does business as well.

Besides, they brought Pho to the adoring masses. Sometimes I believe I cannot subsist without it.

William’s account pointed to an outlook on the uniqueness of America lost to many. What better appreciation can one have for freedom than to have experienced, as an immigrant, the precise opposite?

The “anti-immigrant” attack by Loretta Sanchez couldn’t have been directed toward a less-deserving or more inappropriate target. It is the lowest level of identity politics that one can comprehend.

Says Van Tran: “Even worse is that implicit in her statement, she said: ‘That’s my seat.’”

“It’s the people’s seat, and she still hasn’t apologized to me or my campaign personally. She offered up a lame explanation and we are still waiting for an apology,” said the assemblyman, thus closing our brief chat.

As I pondered these things late Friday evening, I noticed that the Orange County Register reported that Congresswoman Sanchez had apologized for her “anti-immigrant’’ and “Vietnamese are coming” comments.

A Friday night apology for blatantly racist remarks. It’s not exactly the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.

Tim Daniel is editor in chief of the southern California-based Left Coast Rebel blog.
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