In the Cold War Fifties, one popular political slogan was “Better Dead Than Red!” Most of us look back on that era ruefully, as a time when there were “Communists under every bed.”
But for a significant portion of our community, the imminent fear of Red domination isn’t a blast from the blast; it’s an everyday threat.
The Vietnamese-American population of Westminster and Garden Grove is primarily a cohort of people who fled Indochina after the fall of Saigon in 1975, and, of course, their descendents.
The original political alignment of that group was based on admiration for the strong anti-communist rhetoric of President Ronald. He was the enemy of communism, so most of the first wave of immigrants became Republican.
As the younger generation comes into influence, that red spectre has subsided a bit, but not entirely. Westminster’s Little Saigon area remains haunted by a new “Red Menace.”
Politicians and would-be politicians in that city have long used the accusation of pro-communist sympathies as an election year cudgel. The winning strategy was to out “anti-communist” the other guy.
That mindset seemed to be fading away, but now it appears to be back to stay. A new wave of “you’re a communist” finger-pointing seems to be splitting the Vietnamese community. To those of us not of that ethnicity, it may seem curious. The war has been over for nearly 45 years. Vietnam is a major U.S. trading partner and considered an ally in helping to balance Chinese influence in Asia.
But that’s not how some folks in the Little Saigons see it. “Communists are everywhere,” one prominent Vietnamese community leader told me. Another told me of her belief that a new wave of communists – funded by the Hanoi government – started coming to this area in the 1990s for the purpose of infiltrating and demoralizing the overseas Vietnamese community.
How can you detect such a subversive, I asked. “If they bought their house here for cash, they’re probably communists,” I was told.
The irony of people with a lot of money being true sons of Marx and Lenin raised my skeptical eyebrow, but there appear to be a lot of people who believe it.
Finger-pointing about Red sympathies are now center-stage in a political struggle on the council. The majority – Mayor Tri Ta, and council members Kimberly Ho and Chi Charlie Nguyen – square off against the minority – councilmen Tai Do and Sergio Contreras in epic battles on Wednesday nights in the council chambers.
There’s not a lot of collectivism on the agenda, so the division has centered instead on codes of conduct, nepotism and more, including – of course – alleged communist sympathies or at least dictatorial attitudes reminiscent of the Reds.
At the most recent meeting of the council, the majority passed a new policy that gave the principal power to place items on the council agenda to the mayor.
That outraged some folks who proceeded to declare that Westminster was now the first communist city in the United States. There is loud talk of recall.
Are the commies really out to spread disorder in Westminster? It seems a long shot, unless their mission was to distract and divide the community and the city council from paying attention to the day-to-day governance of the city. In that case, “they” are doing one heck of a job, regardless of which side houses the “true” communists.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears on Wednesdays, usually.