A FLAG RAISING ceremony has sparked concern about respect for San Jose’s Vietnamese residents.

The city-sponsored event was held on Jan. 25 to celebrate the previous Lunar New Year weekend. Leaders said technical glitches and a lack of communication leading up to the ceremony were signs of inattention to the Vietnamese community. Dozens gathered for a Feb. 4 forum to voice their concerns and demand answers.

“The ceremony has been running smoothly for many years,” Tho Dinh Le, the secretary general for the Former Vietnam Armed Forces Alliance of Northern California, told San José Spotlight in Vietnamese. “Why are there suddenly big problems?”

Le said he reached out to city officials late last year to jumpstart preparations and reserve the ceremony date. But he had little success. The initial hope was to hold the ceremony on Jan. 22, a Sunday and the first day of Lunar New Year, or Tết in Vietnamese. When city officials said staff didn’t work on Sundays, he pushed for the ceremony to be held on Monday, but the date was pushed to Wednesday, he said. The ceremony is critical for the city’s residents, which view it as a nod to San Jose’s Vietnamese refugees and veterans, he added.

“The ceremony has been running smoothly for many years. Why are there suddenly big problems?”

Tho Dinh Le, Former Vietnam Armed Forces Alliance of Northern California

San Jose is the city with the largest Vietnamese American population in the nation, totaling more than 100,000 residents. Santa Clara County naturalized more than 20,000 new citizens last year, many of whom emigrated from Vietnam.

Van Le, an East Side Union High School District school board member who lost her San Jose City Council bid in District 7 last year, said attendees sang the Republic of Vietnam’s national anthem without broadcasted music as the flag was raised. Yet several minutes earlier, the United States national anthem was broadcasted and the flag was raised without a problem.

Le, who did not attend the ceremony, organized the Saturday community meeting after learning about what happened. She said residents are worried the pattern will continue for future events and is asking for a response from the city. Residents gathered at a local Vietnamese cafe to discuss the ceremony and invited elected officials including Mayor Matt Mahan and Councilmembers Peter Ortiz and Bien Doan to attend. None of the officials showed up, she added.

“It’s very frustrating and it’s very insulting when you raise the flag without the anthem,” she told San José Spotlight. “The ceremony caused a lot of great concerns, emotional disturbance and anger among the Vietnamese American community, especially the elderly folks and the former military members.”

Unnecessary confusion

Tho Dinh Le said the problem arose when Vietnamese organizations contacted outgoing city officials, including former Mayor Sam Liccardo, and they were bounced between different officials like the city manager. HG Nguyen, a staffer for Ortiz, noticed the problem and asked if the councilmember’s office could jump in. Ortiz told San José Spotlight his office took the lead, with Mahan and Doan’s offices providing financial contributions and resources.

Ortiz said he took on preparations for the ceremony with less than a month to prepare. The event usually takes several months to coordinate. His office had meetings with different community leaders, while also securing food and entertainment.

“Usually this is something done by a member who’s already in office and is coming back,” Ortiz told San José Spotlight. “Our office did the best we can as an ally, and we understand that some things weren’t perfect. None of that was intentional.”

Doan said his office will take on the responsibilities next year. He said attendees who came to the event were satisfied and its goal of uniting the community to raise the flag was achieved.

“Over 2 million people lost their country, over 4,000 people (were) lost at sea, thousands of soldiers have sacrificed their lives to have this flag of freedom fly at the City Hall,” Doan told San José Spotlight. “There’s no such thing as a perfect event.”

Tho Dinh Le said frustration over the lack of communication, as well as a suggestion for former military officials to wear suits instead of their uniforms at the event, prompted his organization to boycott the event, although individual officers still participated. The city should have communicated earlier, even if it was to say they were short-staffed with newly-elected officials, he added.

“If they said they were under-prepared, we would have been ready to consider that,” he said in Vietnamese.

Van Le said the hope is for officials to connect with the community and make sure the mistakes don’t happen again.

“We want to work collaboratively with the city to make this event more successful,” she said.

Contact Loan-Anh Pham at loan-anh@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

This story originally appeared in San Jose Spotlight.

Loan-Anh Pham | San Jose Spotlight

San Jose Spotlight