Vietnamese immigrants in Southern California took an ally, a U.S. senator from Nebraska, on a whirlwind tour of Westminster's Little Saigon Tuesday, showing him a bustling mini-mall and an impressive array of leafy green vegetables in a supermarket.
The former Vietnam refugees said they wanted Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey to know that they were doing well in their new country but that they still are concerned about the lack of political freedom in their homeland.
Kerrey, a Vietnam War hero who lost his right leg in combat and won a Medal of Honor, pledged that he would do whatever he could to ensure that political dissent is allowed in Vietnam before the United States lifts its trade embargo or resumes diplomatic relations with that country.
"It would be a tremendous mistake after fighting a war to go back to Vietnam without a mention of freedom," said Kerrey, who plans a diplomatic trip to Vietnam this spring, his third there since he left the military.
Kerrey said that the Communist Party now is the only government-recognized political organization in Vietnam but that he believes that authorities can be persuaded to tolerate more diversity.
"The government of Vietnam is in the frame of mind to do it," he said.
This was welcome news to Kerrey's hosts, led by Sang Nguyen, a Riverside farmer who is spearheading the formation of a new political party in Vietnam called the Movement to Unite the People and Build Democracy.
Before the tour of Little Saigon, Kerrey conferred with U.S.-based representatives of the fledgling Vietnamese political party at a Garden Grove hotel, Nguyen said.
Another purpose of inviting Kerrey to Little Saigon was to show gratitude, said Chuyen Van Nguyen, publisher of a Vietnamese language newspaper. "We wanted him to see the success of the people he helped and sacrificed to protect," Nguyen said.