More than 100 Orange County residents bus in to continue to oppose Riverside’s sister city tie with Can Tho, Vietnam. “Many of us were victims of the communists,” says Ken Nguyen of Santa Ana.
BY ALICIA ROBINSON / STAFF WRITER
Published: Feb. 3, 2015 Updated: Feb. 4, 2015 8:53 a.m.
Protesters packed Tuesday’s Riverside City Council meeting to continue urging officials to end a sister city relationship with a Vietnamese city.
Less than a week after a similar demonstration outside Riverside City Hall, about 100 people were bused in from Orange County to voice their opposition to Riverside’s friendship with Can Tho, Vietnam.
“Many of us were victims of the communists and many of us had very bad experiences with the government of Vietnam,” said Ken Nguyen of Santa Ana.
Befriending a city there dishonors the sacrifices of American and South Vietnamese soldiers who fought for the country’s freedom, he said.
Riverside council members voted last March to form the relationship, which centers on educational, cultural and business exchange between the two cities. They formalized the ties with Can Tho on Jan. 20 with a signed agreement and a placard on a signpost downtown, which the city has since removed to prevent vandalism.
Protesters say Riverside should rescind the relationship with Can Tho because Vietnam remains a communist country that denies its citizens freedom and violates human rights.
Supporters of the friendship say it focuses on the citizens of each community and does not address government policy, and that the intent of sister cities is to promote understanding and sometimes healing between nations that may have had past conflicts.
“We’re teaching the younger generation to keep continuing hate,” said Riverside business owner Grace Luu. Vietnam is a major trade partner of the U.S., Luu said, and she questioned why protesters aren’t targeting Nike, which makes shoes in Vietnam, or the thousands of Americans that visit the country every year as tourists.
So far, it seems unlikely that Riverside would bow to protesters’ demands.
Interim City Attorney Kristi Smith said any council member — including the three that voted against the sister city agreement — could bring the issue up to be put on a future agenda. But the four councilmen who voted for the relationship in 2014, Mike Gardner, Andy Melendrez, Paul Davis and Jim Perry, have recently said they still support it.
Turning out for the council meeting is part of a larger, ongoing strategy laid out in an email posted on the Little Saigon Inside blog that claimed to be from Garden Grove Councilman Phat Bui, who is spearheading the protest effort. Bui said Tuesday that he sent out a similar email but wasn’t sure if the one on the blog included all his comments.
The email advocates increasing pressure on Riverside officials by lobbying state and federal officials to join the opposition, raising money for “propaganda warfare” against Riverside council members who support the Can Tho relationship, and finding out which companies in Riverside do business in Can Tho.
Counter-protesters also turned out for Tuesday’s meeting, at the urging of Riverside Councilman Paul Davis, who was part of a Riverside delegation to Can Tho in 2012.
Davis said he respects Bui’s right to have an opinion but called the comments and tactics in the email attributed to Bui inappropriate.
“He needs to understand that the beauty of this country is that we can have a disagreement and I don’t have to believe what you think I should believe,” Davis said before the meeting. “For (someone) to intimidate and to bully the people of Riverside because you don’t like the decision that we made, to me that’s wrong.”