It was a different landscape when Lam ran for office in 1992. A restaurant owner, he had found himself the go-to man for newly arrived refugees seeking advice on everything from getting driver's licenses to opening businesses, and as a community leader when tensions exploded between Westminster's established residents and the new Vietnamese immigrants.
There were few Vietnamese radio programs and newspapers to spread word of Lam's candidacy, and only a few thousand Vietnamese were registered to vote. Lam worked to register new Vietnamese voters and campaigned heavily outside their enclave, repeating that he was "more than an Asian American candidate."
Lam left politics after 10 years in office, weathering a time of turmoil in Little Saigon and being criticized for failing to join the massive 1999 street protests against a Little Saigon store owner who displayed communist icons. He now manages a Lee's Sandwiches, officially retired from politics.
As Little Saigon grew, so did its political savvy. The Vietnamese now are a sizable voting bloc: Nearly 40% of Westminster's registered voters are Vietnamese American, and Vietnamese radio talk shows and newspapers follow every move of local Vietnamese politicians. Hundreds of Vietnamese Americans attended a council meeting last year to oppose a proposed casino in Garden Grove.
Vietnamese have historically voted largely Republican, identifying with the party's historic anti-Communist stance, Vo said, though the number of Vietnamese Democrats and voters who decline to state parties has increased.
As Vietnamese Americans have continued to rack up political successes, divisions have grown. Discord between the county's two highest-ranking Vietnamese politicians -- Tran and Nguyen -- has drawn Vietnamese voters into two camps.
That, Vo said, is simply a part of the growing pains of political maturation.
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Vietnamese in Westminster
Registered Vietnamese voters
1990: Approx. 2,000
Sources: U.S. Census, Asian Pacific American Legal Center.
Graphics reporting by My-Thuan Tran
Los Angeles Times