How the legacy of the Vietnam War is shaping many Vietnamese Americans’ picks in the 2020 election
In the days leading up to the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, when communist North Vietnamese forces captured South Vietnam, marking the end of the Vietnam War – and in the weeks and years following that day – around 800,000 Vietnamese left their homes and fled on rickety fishing boats.
Among those who did not manage to flee, hundreds of thousands who were aligned with the former South Vietnamese government and army – on whose side the United States had fought during the war – were captured. They became prisoners in communist re-education camps where they faced torture, severe malnutrition and death.
Today, close to two million Vietnamese Americans – former refugees and their descendants – live in the US. They are the fourth-largest Asian-American population in the country.
In the years since the end of the Vietnam War, Vietnamese Americans – particularly the older generation – have typically aligned themselves with the Republican party because of the GOP’s fervent anti-communist stance dating back to the war.
Many say they will vote for US President Donald Trump in the election, and Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote polls show that Vietnamese Americans are the only major Asian ethnic group that has a net favorability rating for US President Donald Trump.
For the past several weeks, Vietnamese Americans have gathered across the US to show their support for Trump, including large groups who travelled in caravans to Washington, DC in October to rally in front of the White House and the Supreme Court.
But there is a growing political divide between younger and older generations of Vietnamese Americans.
The grassroots Progressive Vietnamese American Organization (PIVOT) was founded against the backdrop of the 2016 presidential election. Its members and hundreds of volunteers are actively campaigning for Joe Biden. It has invested heavily in Vietnamese-language digital, TV and print ads and created Viet Fact Check, which has been dispelling misinformation throughout the election.
According to Hieu Le, a PIVOT board member, Vietnamese-American support for Trump is greater now than it was in 2016.
“Despite his harsh anti-immigration policies targeting Vietnamese communities, he’s been able to recapture support within the Vietnamese-American community and increased his support this year to 48 percent, a 16 percent increase from 2016,” Le explained.
“A large part of this has been his rhetoric and anti-communist ‘tough on China’ message that resonates with a conservative community that views communism and Chinese imperialism with great disdain.”
One of the most contentious issues within the Vietnamese-American community is the mistaken belief that as a senator Biden opposed accepting Vietnamese refugees after the war. In October, Biden addressed this misconception in an op-ed in a popular Vietnamese-language newspaper.
But for many Vietnamese, that will not be enough to change their opinion.