Before a cheering crowd of more than 200 people, Garden Grove became the second Orange County city to banish the flag of Vietnam, voting unanimously late Tuesday to replace it at city-sponsored activities with the yellow and red banner of the former South Vietnam.
"This is a statement that the symbol of democracy [in Vietnam] should not be forgotten," said Councilman Mark Rosen, who proposed the resolution.
The city joins neighboring Westminster in refusing to display the communist nation's flag at public events. Together, the two towns constitute the heart of Orange County's Vietnamese community, which is the largest outside Vietnam. The flag would not displace the U.S. or California banners, but fly alongside them at official functions involving Vietnamese Americans.
Throughout both cities, the flag of South Vietnam continues to fly in Vietnamese storefront windows as a symbol of their unity in exile from a country that fell to communist North Vietnam in April 1975.
The resolutions are largely symbolic, since neither city has flown the communist flag, which is a gold star against a red field. But it was a potent political statement for the overflow crowd in the Garden Grove council chambers.
Supporters, most of Vietnamese heritage, packed the council chambers, an extra conference room and the hallways, waving the flag of South Vietnam and bursting into shouts of support as the resolution passed. Most were immigrants who fled Vietnam after the war, and many said they had relatives who were tortured or killed by the communist regime.
"We used our blood for that flag, we died for that flag," South Vietnam army veteran Leslie Le, 70, told council members as he pleaded for them to act.
The government of Vietnam has lodged complaints with state and U.S. officials about the flag resolution in Westminster.
A letter written by Nguyen Tam Chien, Vietnam's ambassador to the United States, complained that the city's resolution in support of the flag of the former South Vietnam was "full of slanders and fabrications about Vietnam."
Nguyen stated in the letter that the flag of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam should be recognized as the country's official symbol because diplomatic relations were established in 1995 between the two countries and hanging of the old flag would reinvigorate hatred.
The proposal also drew criticism from a few residents who said only the U.S. flag should be displayed.
"This is America, not Vietnam," said Carolyn Baxter, who has lived in Garden Grove for 41 years. "They came over to America and they should keep our flag."
But city officials said their actions were intended as a symbolic gesture aimed at alleviating confusion about which Vietnamese banner to use during ceremonies and events.
The flag of South Vietnam was first flown in 1948 under King Bao Dai in Hue, the central imperialist region of the country, during its battles with France. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam flag was used by followers of communist leader Ho Chi Minh during the civil war that ended in 1975.
Rosen suggested the city's resolution could send a loud message to the people of Vietnam, as well as to U.S. officials.
"If it is passed in different communities, that will send the message to our government in Washington," he said to a standing ovation from audience members.
"If we continue to wave the South Vietnam flag, we will help bring down the communists in Vietnam."