My-Thuan Tran, Los Angeles Times, February 12, 2008
For eight days, protesters paraded in front of one of Little Saigon’s leading newspapers. They carried an effigy of Ho Chi Minh and called the editors “traitors” for running a photo they said was so offensive that it had to be the work of communist sympathizers.
Two top editors at the newspaper were replaced several days later.
The offending photo was of a piece of art by a UC Davis graduate student and Vietnamese immigrant who saw the creation—a yellow and red foot-spa tub—as a salute to Vietnamese refugees like her mother-in-law who toiled in a nail salon after the family came to America.
But the protesters saw something far more menacing.
The tub was yellow with three red stripes, which the protesters said must be a reference to the flag of the fallen country of South Vietnam. And the spa’s yellow power cord was plugged into a red outlet, which seemed to resemble the flag of the communist-ruled Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
“Why is the South Vietnamese flag on a thing that people wash their dirty feet in?” asked UC Van Nguyen, 70, who attended some of the rallies, which began in late January.
Such loud and jeering protests are not unusual in the United States’ largest Vietnamese enclave, where the line between free expression and traitorous behavior remains paper-thin.
At the recent rallies outside the newspaper, protesters said that despite the abundant freedoms in America, artists must practice self-restraint to avoid insulting a community where the memories of war and struggle still linger.
The photo of the artwork, titled “Connection,” was printed in the Vietnamese lunar new year edition of a magazine published by Nguoi Viet, the largest daily newspaper in Little Saigon.
During the protests, which ended early this month, demonstrators paraded around the newspaper’s parking lot, yelling “Down with communists! Down with Nguoi Viet newspaper!”
In Little Saigon, which stretches through several communities in central Orange County, officials in Westminster and Garden Grove have banned the communist Vietnamese flag from official functions. And it is customary for merchants to fly the old South Vietnamese banner in front of businesses. Some non-Vietnamese politicians in the area pose with the flag on campaign literature.
Meanwhile, the artist said she had no intention of offending anyone when she bought a foot spa from a nail shop, painted it yellow and red, and submitted it for a scholarship while she was a student at UC Berkeley. She is now a graduate student at UC Davis.”People can think that I demean their flag, but that is not my intention,” said Chau Huynh, who was incorrectly identified in the article as Chau Thuy Tran. “When you talk about red and yellow, it’s the Vietnamese traditional colors that I fall in love with. Both flags are yellow and red.”
She saw the art creation as a way to honor Vietnamese women who have “toiled and sacrificed enormously for the future of their children and family,” she wrote in a piece explaining the art, which was translated into Vietnamese and ran next to the image in the Nguoi Viet magazine.