Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Humble Request from A San Jose Resident

A Humble Request from A San Jose Resident


Dear City Council Members;

This naming problem has been going on for more than two months. The easy simple task has become an issue just because it was not handled correctly from the beginning.

First, the purpose of the designation of a business section of Story Road is to recognize the success of businesses established by Vietnamese throughout the city of San Jose, as has been well stated by Mayor Chuck Reed. Obviously, these successes over the past thirty years have been attributed to older Vietnamese who were refugees and who worked very hard to build a better future for their younger generations. These successful older Vietnamese truly deserved to be given a determining voice in this naming process. The City is honoring their hard labor and their success. Councilwoman Nguyen should not be the person selecting the name. Their success constitutes a source of pride to all Vietnamese throughout the City. This meaningful gesture of Mayor Chuck Reed and the City Council also carries a moral lesson: gratitude and appreciation from the younger generation to the older generation. Councilwoman Nguyen, with some show of arrogance, misunderstood the intended goal and the profound significance of such recognition, then did not start the naming process correctly, and has ultimately altered its noble cause. This is clearly a case of abuse of power.

Secondly, the Mayor's office and the City Council did not instruct Councilwoman Nguyen how to handle the process properly. Clearly, it is unsuitable to place full trust in her and to fully rely on her ability to handle the project. It just happens that the designated section of Story Road belongs to District 7. Also, there are businesses established by Vietnamese on other streets: Senter Road, Santa Clara Street, Tully Road, and in other areas of the City. The name-designation does not exclude successes of the other businesses, and, therefore, involves all Vietnamese throughout the entire City. The business section of Story Road, meaningfully and appreciatively designated by the Mayor and the City Council, is a symbolic location. To select a suitable name for that business section, the City's advisory survey (*) of only people and businesses around the section was incomplete. There should have been a better and cost-effective way to make such a selection. This belongs to the City leadership.

You have observed strong will of the majority of the community and the patience of the demonstrators who raised objections against the approval of the name proposed by Councilwoman Nguyen. Her misleading information to the City Council has brought the City un-necessary troubles over the past few months.

An overall look at the actual facts reveals that what Councilwoman Nguyen has done so far is not right, anti-democratic, in violation of public trust, and in violation of the Sunshine Law. As was publicly quoted in the San Jose Mercury News, Councilwoman Nguyen has:

1.- Said that: the name she proposed would attract more clients to the business area.

2.- Ignored solid majorities, shown in different polls, of Vietnamese supporting “Little Saigon”.

3.- Insisted that: she backed the name “Saigon Business District” because it was more appealing to a silent majority of district residents.

4.- Said that: Changing the name at this point you would invite more trouble and then you anticipate another backlash from people saying “Why are you giving in?”.

5.- Said that: This is a democracy. Anyone has the right to voice his or her opinion. They don't have the right to impose their opinion.

The reason given by Councilwoman Nguyen to support her proposed name is very weak. Her proposed name is a new name. No one can tell in advance that it will be a good name. “Little Saigon” has proven to be very successful and has become well-known over the past thirty years. When people want to shop in a Vietnamese town, the name “Little Saigon” comes to their mind. It takes more than thirty years to build such good reputation.

Councilwoman Nguyen knew in advance through polls and surveys that “Little Saigon” supporters have the overwhelming majority for their name to be approved. She was not sincere when she said the name she had proposed had the support of the majority. The majority she claimed verbally is unable for her to prove materially. I believe, if she had a majority, she would have shown it to the public. Vietnamese will always welcome and accept the majority. Ignoring a majority and falsely claiming a majority are dishonest, anti-democratic, and in violation of public trust and of the honor code of oath of office.

Using a silent majority to support her name proposal is unacceptable and anti-democratic, also. In a democratic process, people must speak out, act and participate. No one knows what people want or like if they stay silent. When they remain silent, you wonder how Councilwoman Nguyen could be able to know that her proposed name was more appealing to them. Or, they might have privately contacted her; the majority is a huge crowd, how could that happen? Or, they might have e-mailed her; where then is the e-mail list? Council Members should have asked these simple questions in order to force Councilwoman Nguyen to disclose material facts. Or, they might be of a small group that could have privately contacted her and influenced her selection for their own special interests. These are called “back door deals”. Such deals are not in accord with the San Jose Sunshine Law. Without material facts, this claim of the silent majority could be considered as a deceit, or a dishonesty. If a claim of a silent-majority were considered valid, then a loser could claim victory. A silent majority is merely a product of imagination.

“Why are you giving in?”; This is a very easy question to answer. Councilwoman Nguyen should show respect to older people, should set aside any self-assertion and self-conceit, and should change her mind in order to ease tensions in the community and to restore peace to our City Hall. She has been a terrible agitator. The truth is that, I believe, she does not have a majority even though she pretends to have one. She should always keep in mind that in a democratic process, every one must “give in” to the majority and that is the way a democracy works. There is no intimidation at all in accepting a majority. There is no shame at all in acknowledging a mistake. I do not think there will be any backlash as she confusingly claimed.

This is a democracy. They don't have the right to impose their opinion. Let's apply what she said to herself. She has no majority to support her proposal. She has invented a story. She used her imaginary silent majority to suppress the true majority and to impose her own opinion on the actual majority of the community. This is no democracy.

Councilwoman Nguyen shows her distaste for what she called bullying. She does not honestly admit that people also have the right to show their distaste for her arrogance, her anti-democratic way of handling the name selection, her ignorance of the community's true majority, her disrespect to people's feelings, her abuse of power to impose her own opinion, and possibly her ties to some special interests. These are more serious and more provoking than what she charged bullying. As a representative of the community, she should have been honest and more humble. She made angers run deep. We all still vividly remember that Councilman Gregory of San Jose and Supervisor Jew of San Francisco vehemently denied their wrongdoings.

In addition, to design the sign for the designated section, the City should consult and consider input from leaders of the Vietnamese community. There should not be sole control by the City power over a Vietnamese community's matter that also bears a cultural aspect.

The naming incident awakens older Vietnamese who usually neglect their voting responsibilities. The Vietnamese community is fighting for a good cause: the appropriate way for the city to handle a minority community's affairs. They know it will not be easy. The Vietnamese naming incident suggests that, in a near future, a set of guidelines should be drawn together and approved by all minority communities, and should be adopted as a city charter to avoid future similar incidents.

The naming incident is a lesson for all minority communities and provides the City with an opportunity to set up guidelines that prohibit and censure any of its members who intentionally mislead the City Council and supply false information to the City Council because of personal special interests.

Highly respecting City Council Members and relying on their integrity in rendering public services, their honesty in admitting a mistake, and their sincerity to fix the mistake, I wish good news would soon come to ease tensions in the Vietnamese community and to restore normalcy to our Civic Center. For such a purpose, my humble request sincerely urges the City Council to revisit the issue, reconsider its previous votes and rename the Story-Road retail business section “Little Saigon†in order to truly recognize the success of businesses of Vietnamese throughout San Jose. I know that the whole Vietnamese community in San Jose will deeply appreciate your appropriate action that, hopefully, will be taken in a near future.

George Orwell wrote a famous sentence: “... political language makes lies sound truthful”. That is the root of all evil and disturbances in the society. I wish the City Council a year of smooth activities and successful businesses.

Respectfully Yours
A Resident of San Jose
QuangMinh Pham

(*) Some additional information:

* - The low turnout of the City's advisory survey reminds me of a meeting held by the City many years ago. Having received a city notice of a meeting about Good Neighborhood Initiatives, I went to the meeting. At my arrival, I found the big room empty, only 12 people were in the meeting room including the City Staff. It was a huge surprise to me because the issue had sounded very good and thousands of notices had been sent out. Toward the end of the meeting, an attendee told me that people did not show up because they did not trust the City. The issue was good but there were hidden strings attached to it. Now, Vietnamese did not reply to the advisory survey probably because they knew Councilwoman Nguyen already made up her mind. The survey would be of no help.

* - Some word or set of words carries special meaning and causes hard feelings in people. For example, the words: “Vị này là một Việt Kiều Yêu Nước” in English they mean "This gentleman is a Vietnamese Patriotic Immigrant". The sentence sounds good in English. When a Vietnamese hears these words in Vietnamese, he or she knows for sure that the man is communist or associated with the Vietnam communist government. Over the last few years, Vietnam Communist government has made common a phrase in English "Vietnamese are all the same" to attract more young Vietnamese. When you see someone using this phrase in public life, you can tell he or she are associated with the communist government. Usually, you must be familiar with communist activities or living through painful experiences to realize meanings implied by some special words. They make similar effect on people's feelings as the word "negro" or the Nazi sign.

* - In 1979, I successfully helped the Vietnamese Community in San Francisco to ask the Board of Trustees of the University of San Francisco and the director of KUSF to cancel a contract signed by a young "Viet-Kieu Yeu Nuoc" and the KUSF Radio Station. In English, the then-Director of the KUSF had no way to know that the young man was communist. In this case of granting and approving of a name, it is so easy to resolve very quickly. I do not know why Mayor Reed and the City Council make it so difficult and are using an arrogant councilwoman to humiliate the Vietnamese Community. It is easy to understand why demonstrators are angry. When someone betrays his root community, he will betray any other community when special interests are involved. It is so sad!

Contact: QuangMinh Pham: P. O. Box 611267 San Jose, CA 95161