Nghia M. Vo
The Generational Cultural Divide
         The VAALA exhibit
         Ten years ago, a merchant who displayed the communist red flag with a yellow star in front of his store in Little Saigon, Westminster, CA, generated 53 days of continuous and sometimes violent street protests. When he finally went out of business, all storefronts in that Vietnamese enclave in a spirit of unity displayed the South Vietnamese national flag- yellow flag with three red stripes.

         To prevent a repeat of the flag saga, ordinances have been passed to recognize the yellow flag as the official Vietnamese flag in Westminster and other U.S. communities around the country. The cities of Westminster and Garden Grove have also passed ordinances opposing visits by Vietnamese government officials although the no-communist zone ordinances are more symbolic than enforceable. When Vietnamese officials do visit Little Saigon to discuss trade between the two countries, a cat and mouse game plays out behind the scene.

         In 2008, a UC Davis arts graduate and recent Vietnamese immigrant by painting a foot spa in yellow with three red stripes created another stir in the same community. The Little Saigon citizens called it an act of communist propaganda. When the largest local newspaper reproduced a photograph of the painting, protests erupted forcing the newspaper to fire two top editors.

         In January 2009, a Vietnamese-American arts group in Santa Ana opened its exhibit with a photograph of a young woman wearing a red tank top with a yellow star and a Ho Chi Minh bust featured close by. The exhibit also displayed southern nationalist flags as well as emblems and art works that were banned in Vietnam.

         VAALA-Vietnamese-American Arts & Letters Association-labeled their exhibit "F.O.B. II: Art Speaks." FOB is the pejorative term "Fresh off the Boat" that is given to immigrants coming to the U.S. by boat.

         The goals of the curators are to "challenge sensibility and provoke discussion" in a community that is staunchly anti-communist. One curator, Tram Le, thinks that the community needs to progress toward "having open dialogue and being tolerant of different political viewpoints." Mariam Lam, a UC Riverside assistant professor of literature and cultural studies, and board member of the art group states that the "community should be a safe place for people, even protestors." Linda Vo, chair of UC Irvine's Asian American Studies and VAALA board member believes the exhibit will test Vietnamese American community. Lan Duong, a co-curator and assistant professor of media and cultural studies at UC Riverside thinks that the red flag "is not celebratory of communism." All these ladies are board members of the VAALA.

        Please read the rest of the story in THE LANDS OF FREEDOM.
Back