On Sept. 13, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn attended a community celebration held by the Vietnamese Community Leadership Institute at Jumbo Restaurant.
At the event, he delivered the city’s proclamation to recognize the Vietnamese Heritage and Freedom Flag, stating that it was the uniting symbol of the overwhelming majority of Vietnamese Americans living in the Seattle area.
In the United States, the former South Vietnamese flag, which consists of a yellow field with three horizontal red stripes in the middle, is known as the Vietnamese Heritage and Freedom Flag. The official flag of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (and the former North Vietnamese flag) consists of a yellow field with a red star at its center.
According to data from the 2000 U.S. Census, about 76.5 percent of Vietnamese in Seattle are foreign-born.
During their lifetime, many Vietnamese witnessed and were victims of a communist takeover in their birth country. Some fled the country and immigrated into the United States in the late 70s and 80s as refugees.
Adopting the Heritage flag in the United States is controversial and can be problematic. It can be seen as critical and antagonistic against the current Vietnamese government, with which the United States has diplomatic relations.
In the past, the flag has been an anti-communist symbol, and defending its use in the United States has been passionate.
One typical incident was depicted in the documentary “Saigon, U.S.A.” In 1999, a store owner displayed the current flag of Vietnam in his store and garnered a month-long protest and a candlelight vigil of 15,000 people.
Locally, some years ago, there was a protest by Vietnamese at Northwest Asian Weekly’s office after our paper ran an editorial that was critical of the use of the South Vietnamese flag. At the time, we, like some other non-Vietnamese, saw the impassioned use of the flag as an inability of the local Vietnamese population to let go of the past.
However, being a young community, the Vietnamese are rightly tied to the culture of the country of their birth, and they continue to carry the trauma of the war with them.
The local community has, in fact, made great strides in the last few years. Gone is the negativity. The flag has less of an “anti” stigma attached to it. The community no longer feels that the flag still stands for a government that no longer exists. It no longer feels like its use is in protest of something.
Rather, the flag today is an embrace of a new, positive identity, of heritage and freedom. The younger generation, made up of individuals who don’t carry an unfortunate history with them, has also adopted the flag as theirs, making the flag stand for all Vietnamese in the United States.
And it goes to show that it’s not impossible to find solutions to complicated problems. It shows that if we, as an Asian community, take all of our different points of view and put them together toward a solution to an ongoing problem, there isn’t a barrier we cannot overcome.
We also should be more gracious. Though it can be hard, we should try not to condemn those who choose to embrace the current flag of Vietnam because in America, they have a right to display the flag. It’s important to be open-minded about viewpoints that conflict with our own. ♦