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College Defuses Flag Protest

CSUF won't fly banners of students' homelands at graduation, averting a demonstration by anti-communist Vietnamese.

May 12, 2004|Jeff Gottlieb | Times Staff Writer

To avert protests over the flying of the Vietnamese flag at this month's graduation, the president of Cal State Fullerton has decided that none of the 79 international banners representing students' homelands will be displayed.

Instead, students' home countries will be listed in the graduation program, said university President Milton A. Gordon.

The university avoided another controversy by deciding not to use Vietnam's official name, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, which would inflame the staunchly anti-communist community in nearby Little Saigon. Instead, the university will use the names listed on a U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which lists the nation simply as Vietnam. That is acceptable to student and community leaders.

Students had threatened to walk out of graduation ceremonies if the Socialist Republic flag were flown. Phu Ngoc Nguyen, a staff member for the Vietnamese Student Assn. at the university, called the no-flag policy a "satisfactory compromise," but he said he felt bad that other countries' banners would not be displayed.

Nguyen and other Vietnamese leaders had suggested that the communist flag fly along with the banner of the defeated South Vietnam, which has three red stripes on a yellow background.

Nguyen said his group hopes that the new policy will be permanent.

Gordon said he made the no-flag decision after meeting Monday with a committee of eight campus administrators and staff members. Graduation, he said, "is a very joyous day.... So I don't want to do anything to spoil that activity."

He also said he didn't want anyone to be endangered if a protest got out of hand.

More than 8,000 students and about 40,000 relatives and friends are expected to attend on-campus graduation ceremonies May 29 and 30.

The flag controversy erupted just as anti-Vietnam feelings in Little Saigon have boiled over again. Council members in Garden Grove and Westminster, home to the largest Vietnamese populations outside Vietnam, proposed laws to prevent visits by trade delegations and officials from the communist country.

Cal State Fullerton started displaying international flags at graduation in 1997. The Vietnamese flag, a gold star on a red background, made its first appearance last year. It upset one man so much that after graduation he climbed a fence and pulled it down.

Chien Ngoc Bach, spokesman for the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, said the flags, including the banner of his country, should be flown. "When you talk about a country's national flag, you talk about a country in existence, especially a country that has been recognized by other nations and the U.S.," he said. "It's a basic question of what is a country."

The U.S. and Vietnam established diplomatic relations in 1995.

Cal State Fullerton may have more students of Vietnamese descent, about 2,000, than any university in the country. Among them are 31 students from Vietnam.

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