Posted on August 7, 2020

Black Lives Matter Movement Stirs Painful Divide in Local Vietnamese-American Community

Phillip Martin, WGBH, August 5, 2020

One of the burning issues of the day is playing out painfully among Vietnamese-Americans in New England: Which side of Black Lives Matter should the community be on?

Some see the movement as a rightful denunciation of structural racism and police brutality. Others in traditionally conservative Vietnamese-American communities in Dorchester, Quincy and Manchester, New Hampshire, regard BLM and their supporters as unpatriotic and dangerously leftist.

BLM’s detractors include a Vietnamese immigrant named Bao Chau Kelly of Hooksett, New Hampshire. She is a pro-Trump activist who has recruited a small but vocal group of Vietnamese-Americans to attend “Blue Lives Matter” rallies in support of police and flood social media with messages attacking Black Lives Matter as a violent anti-American ideology. They have excoriated Vietnamese-Americans who embrace BLM, including Massachusetts Rep. Tram Nguyen of Andover.

Earlier this summer Nguyen released a video on Facebook explaining why she thought it was important to support Black Lives Matter. Her video included a reference to Asian-Americans’ heightened fears following a string of reported verbal and physical attacks across the U.S.

“We can’t fight against racism directed towards our community while standing complicit in a system that disproportionately discriminates, devalues and criminalizes and brutalizes our Black friends and neighbors,” she said.

Nguyen told WGBH News she knew that some among the area’s estimated 30,000 Vietnamese-American residents would react negatively to this message. However, she said she did not expect it to lead to “personal attacks” and what she called “vile anti-Black rhetoric.”

“I also didn’t anticipate equating Black Lives Matter to socialism and communism. And in fact, I find that to be very ironic because my father served in the South Vietnamese military and was put into a re-education camp by the Communists for eight years.”

In her translated post written in Vietnamese, Chau Kelly said of Nguyen: “It is a shame that her father was an officer of South Vietnam … and was imprisoned by the [North] Vietnamese communists.”

Chau Kelly’s post, cited in an article in the Eagle Tribune, goes on to say: “They escaped Vietnam so that she can live in freedom and democracy and have a better future, yet this Massachusetts [representative] embraced the American communists and domestic terrorists BLM.”

Complicity with communism are fighting words in Vietnamese communities. {snip}

WGBH News reached out to Chau Kelly but received no reply. With a large following on social media, she has organized and taken part in several anti-Black Lives Matter protests, including one in Concord, N.H., this summer attended by armed white counter-demonstrators.


A recent graduate of Boston University, Nguyen is in her early 20’s and believes that Vietnamese-Americans her age generally agree with the notion that Black Lives Matter. By contrast, she said, she is shocked by what she has been hearing and reading in right-wing Vietnamese social media. Nguyen alleges that some of what she has seen is not just racism. It’s more specific than that, she said.

“There’s so much anti-blackness rhetoric within the community. I didn’t realize how much anti-blackness there was. I’d start joining like Facebook groups to read more about why folks are so against the current movement. I’m just still in the appalled level of it.”


Most Vietnamese immigrants in the Boston area came from the south of the country and were ardently anti-communist. Many identified with the Republican Party {snip} and viewed African Americans generally as too liberal. Some accepted racist stereotypes of Blacks as criminals and as people to be feared {snip}. This dread was compounded by street violence during the early post-war Vietnamese migration period.