By Hana Dao
Historically, most Asian American voters tend to vote “blue,” and many Asian Americans found themselves voting for Joe Biden for this year’s election. By most, I mean every Asian group aside from Vietnamese voters. A recent poll survey done by advocacy groups — AAPI Data, APIA Vote and Asian Americans Advancing Justice — in September 2020 found that Vietnamese voters were more likely than any other group of Asian Americans to vote for Trump. Vietnamese American voters have also been very vocal for their support of Trump: MAGA rallies have been held by Vietnamese Republicans in Santa Ana, California, and Houston, Texas.
Vietnamese voters have always tended to lean Republican, so to some it may be no surprise that they are sticking to party loyalty and voting for Trump. This pattern reflects that of Cuban voters, who also tend to lean more conservative than other Latino groups — perhaps because both Cubans and Vietnamese refugees fled communist regimes thus sharing similar political views. Even so, the spread of misinformation that runs rampant through Facebook and other social media platforms has also contributed significantly to their strong admiration for Trump and the villainization of Biden.
For example, The Washington Examiner, a paper known for having a conservative bias and right-leaning tendency, published an article implying that Biden believes America has no obligation to help Vietnamese refugees. The article, though, took past Biden’s words out of context. In 1975, Biden clearly distinguished between helping Vietnamese refugees leave Vietnam and providing American military aid. He was supportive of the former, but not the latter. He stuck to the anti-war platform that got him elected, clarifying he would like to bring home American troops.
The myth that Biden “does not care about” Vietnamese people because he voted against the 1975 Congress Bill H.R. 6755, also known as the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act, has also played a part in discrediting Biden and the Democratic party in the eyes of Vietnamese voters. This act was sponsored by Peter Rodino Jr. — a Democrat, not a Republican. The bill enabled 130,000 refugees from Southeast Asia to enter the U.S. and allocated $455 million to help them resettle, an amount equal to roughly over $2 billion today. While it is true that Biden did not vote in favor of this bill, it’s important to note he did not vote on it at all. In 1975, Biden had difficulty commuting from Delaware to D.C. — members of his family passed away in late 1972 and his sons were seriously injured as well. During this period, Biden spent a lot of time with his family and ended up missing several votes in Congress. Due to these salient family issues, it would be inaccurate to say Biden voted against this particular bill. Biden, however, was a part of the Foreign Services Committee, whose approval was essential to getting the Bill out to the floor for a vote in the first place. In stark and ironic contrast to this welcoming of Southeast Asian refugees, Trump’s administration has reduced protections for Vietnamese war refugees by expanding the category of refugees that can be deported. The administration moved to deport thousands of Vietnamese refugees back to Vietnam — despite that these refugees fled that very country 40 years ago.
One aspect of Trump’s campaign that has propelled his success with Vietnamese American voters is his blatant and straightforward “anti-China” rhetoric. The Vietnamese community is critical of China due to China’s prior colonization of Vietnam and continued imperialist encroachment onto Vietnamese land. Tensions run high between the two countries, as seen in the conflict over territorial claims of islands, boat standoffs and anti-Chinese propaganda growing on social media in Vietnam. Trump’s stance against China has allowed Vietnamese people to feel as if they are receiving sympathy. Some Vietnamese are grateful for the anti-China rhetoric as they also believe Trump will stand up against the Chinese government. Trump’s actions and alignment, however, speak differently from this rhetoric: He swings back and forth from blaming China for hurting the country’s economy to cozying up to the country’s president at his private Mar-A-Lago club. His flip-flopping raises many questions for Americans especially when it was revealed by The New York Times that Trump pays taxes to China, approximately $200,000, which is glaringly different from the $750 in American taxes he was reported to have paid. China’s relationship with Trump remains unique — Forbes reported $5.4 million flowing from a state-owned bank to Trump Tower, to which Trump maintained connections to when he became the 45th president, a possible violation of Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution that says no federal official shall “accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State” without the approval of Congress. It does not appear that all, or even most, of the profits from Trump’s dealings with China have been donated to the U.S. treasury either, because only around $190,000 was donated last year from profits from working with foreign governments. Based on the arrangement between Trump Towers and its renter, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the bank still lists their address within Trump’s building.
Trump has been inconsistent in his critical stance to China. He reportedly approved of China imprisoning Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps and claimed that China and U.S. relations have never been better, despite his continual China-blaming since he began campaigning in 2016. Earlier this year, Trump praised President Xi Jinping multiple times for working to get the pandemic under control in China.
In addition, Trump’s moves to “stand up” to China have sometimes backfired. Some Vietnamese voters are under the impression that Trump has been doing good since he has set trade sanctions and tariffs on goods from China, believing that the president is standing up to the “big bully” China. The sad reality is that these tariffs have been economically damaging, hurting American consumers and industries more than helping. The cost of these tariffs fell onto consumers and businesses, mainly those relying on imported goods and export industries which faced retaliation from other countries.
While many Vietnamese voters continue to be outspoken in their passion for Trump, there is a growing divide within Vietnamese families as the younger generations align their support with Biden rather than Trump. This year’s intense election has revealed a strong gap between the conservative parents and left-leaning children of not just Vietnamese, but all families across America. In the case of young Vietnamese American voters like myself, the struggle to raise awareness among our traditional, conservative family members is definitely an uphill battle, but it is a necessary one.
Many Vietnamese voters are not armed with a picture full enough to support a candidate who will actually work in their best interests, as well of those of the country as a whole. This lacking is especially true for the older Vietnamese generation, who often rely on foreign media sources for their news due to a language barrier. Biased news both from overseas in Vietnam and Vietnamese-language based sources has contributed significantly to the relationship with the older, conservative-leaning Vietnamese community and Trump. Some news aggregator sites including The Interpreter and PIVOT’s Viet Fact Check have arisen out of progressive and young Vietnamese people’s efforts to address the lack of nonpartisan and accurate news articles that are available for those who have difficulty with English.
For now, the divide among Vietnamese families will continue to grow — unless we can address how neither group is on the same page, due in part to this gap in information. It is absolutely essential that more news sites make their news available in Vietnamese, Spanish and other languages for audiences. Tech companies and social media platforms also have a responsibility today as well to flag and fact-check false information circulating. And for young voters, we must realize our civic responsibility encompasses more than just voting once every four years. It is so important for us to reach out to others around us every day and respectfully encourage a greater sense of awareness to better our community.
Contact Hana Dao at hanadao ‘at’ stanford.edu.
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