WESTMINSTER, Calif. (AP) - Vietnamese-American residents in Orange County's Little Saigon are pushing back against those who call them communist sympathizers.
The label is enough to ruin a reputation in the anti-communist Vietnamese enclave. Previously, those targeted would often endure the attacks, knowing it would be hard to counter them. But some residents now are suing their accusers for slander and harassment.
Among them is KimOanh Nguyen-Lam, who in 2006 was appointed as the nation's first Vietnamese-American public school superintendent. Only a week after she was hired, the offer from a local school board was rescinded without explanation.
Some board members later said they though Nguyen-Lam was not qualified. But according to court documents, one board member said local community activist Sinh Cuong Cao had called the board and said Nguyen-Lam was a communist.
Nguyen-Lam is suing Cao for defamation, alleging Cao's comments led to her ousting. Nguyen-Lam fled the communist Vietnam government in 1975 and her father was a colonel in the South Vietnam government.
"Cao's slandering negated all that my father stood for and damaged our family reputation," Nguyen-Lam said. "The decision to seek legal action is one way to prevent incidents like this from happening again."
Cao's lawyer, Mark Bucher, said Cao's statements did not affect Nguyen-Lam's appointment and Cao denies calling Nguyen-Lam a communist. According to court papers, he admitted giving his opinion to board members but said he did not slander her.
To an outsider, the level of red-baiting and suspicion in Little Saigon may seem more like a newsreel from the McCarthy era.
"The war, for the American public, ended in 1975, but for the Vietnamese-American community, it is still an ongoing process," said Linda Vo, chairwoman of the University of California, Irvine, Department of Asian American Studies. "Unfortunately, in our community, anyone can be accused of being a communist."
In a different case to be heard next month, the owners of Little Saigon's largest newspaper sued three protesters who have been demonstrating outside its offices over the publication of a photo they felt was sympathetic to communists.
The newspaper's owners allege the protesters have harassed and threatened employees and customers. The defendants denied the allegations and said they were practicing freedom of speech.
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