Ensigns bearing Confederate and neo-Nazi imagery outlined the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. But for Vietnamese Americans, it is the sight of a defunct flag — representing a rustic that ceased to exist practically a half-century in the past — that introduced up painful questions on identification, trauma and the legacy of U.S. imperialism.
The yellow-and-red-striped banners of the former South Vietnam flew above crowds of rioters throughout the Capitol grounds. Many of the flag carriers have been Vietnamese Americans who, in help of President Donald Trump, have typically used the emblem to precise nostalgia for a misplaced residence and opposition to communism.
“This flag to me is an anti-Communist flag,” Michelle Le, a Seattle-based actual property dealer who flew the banner at the rally, wrote in a Facebook post, which has been deleted. “It’s a reminder of my roots and heritage. I had lived through Communism and I know the tyranny and the pain it had inflicted on many families.” (She declined to remark.)
But to group advocates who noticed the South Vietnamese flag, or the Yellow Flag, as an emblem of democracy and unity, its presence at a riot was each alarming and infuriating.
“The ideas of authoritarianism, of overturning the people’s will, are not the principles that this flag stands for,” stated Tung Nguyen, president of the Progressive Vietnamese American Organization, or PIVOT. “It’s about us being free, and Trump is not someone you can be free under. White supremacy is not something you can be free under.”
For Vietnamese Americans, the Yellow Flag represents many, typically clashing, points of the refugee expertise. For many years, individuals have used it to precise hatred for a communist regime that banished them from their nation. The identical sentiments buoyed the group’s long-standing loyalty to the Republican Party. (Vietnamese Americans have been the solely Asian group to favor Trump over President-elect Joe Biden in November.)
But the flag’s rising visibility on the far proper “opens up a bigger can of worms” for the diaspora, stated Thuy Vo Dang, an ethnic research professor and curator for the Southeast Asian Archive at the University of California, Irvine. (The emblem has even been noticed in Australia at a “Stop the Steal” rally, a far-right marketing campaign that falsely alleges widespread voter fraud in opposition to Trump.)
“On the one hand, it’s a political symbol,” she stated, noting that the banner’s that means has shifted over the years relying on “whose voice is loudest.” “But on the other, there is this very affective and sentimental personal attachment that many in the refugee community have toward it.”
After communist North Vietnam defeated the U.S.-backed South in 1975, scores of South Vietnamese refugees resettled in America. In Vietnam, the North’s purple flag changed their yellow one. In the Nineties, Vietnamese American leaders started lobbying native elected officers to acknowledge the defunct banner as the “Heritage and Freedom Flag” to symbolize the displaced abroad group. More than 20 states have adopted resolutions to take action.
Today, the flag is a everlasting, sacred fixture at necessary cultural occasions, together with Lunar New Year, or Tết, festivals, serving as a totem of solidarity and rebirth. It has allowed individuals to reminisce about their former lives, Vo Dang stated, whereas giving them the power to forge new paths of their adopted residence.
But as with different emblems of nationwide satisfaction, allegiance to the South Vietnamese banner has additionally deepened divisions inside the group.
In 1999, greater than 10,000 residents of Westminster, a Vietnamese American enclave in Southern California, packed the streets in violent protest when a video retailer proprietor displayed a poster of Ho Chi Minh, the revolutionary communist chief, together with the purple flag. On faculty campuses, home and worldwide college students have fought over which Vietnamese flag ought to be flown at graduation ceremonies.
Nguyen, of PIVOT, stated it is essential to acknowledge that the anger of the debate typically arises from unaddressed trauma.
“A lot of our elders feel like they did suffer a lot in Vietnam and during the transition here, and they associate that suffering with things such as communism,” Nguyen stated. “Their emotions are so strong they don’t always see what’s the real cause of their suffering.”
Deepening chasms inside Vietnamese American group — alongside class, age and ideological traces — mirror these in American society at giant, stated Long Bui, a historian and writer of “Returns of War: South Vietnam and the Price of Refugee Memory.”
“Most Vietnamese Americans are actually independent, but Republicans are most visible,” he stated. The youthful technology is strongly progressive, he stated, however ethnic media are inclined to amplify conservative voices. The flag, nonetheless, “reflects the past and also present and future concerns” for the group, he stated. One approach to transfer ahead is to acknowledge the risks of hypernationalist pondering.
The controversy round the flag’s alignment with right-wing causes, Vo Dang stated, provides Vietnamese Americans a chance to interrogate the accepted narrative about their previous.
“Our relationship to the U.S. has always been informed by its role in Vietnam and its so-called role as ‘saviors’ to us as refugees,” she stated. The framing situations Vietnamese refugees to be “forever indebted” to their adopted nation, she stated, with out acknowledging how U.S. navy intervention contributed to the destruction of their homeland.
“So when Trump says loyalty to him is tantamount to loyalty to the U.S.,” she stated, “some people really think they’re ‘freedom fighters’ upholding democracy.”
After final week’s occasions, many younger people began questioning their elders’ unyielding loyalty to and interpretation of the banner’s values.
“This is an opening for us,” Vo Dang stated, “to hold our leaders to task and ask, ‘How can you help us create spaces for dialogue about our difficult past without reducing it to one-liners like “this flag is about freedom” or “this flag is about hate?”‘”