This morning Andrew Do, newly elected member to District 1 of the Orange County Board of Supervisors (pending completion of a recount), told a compelling story to the Lincoln Club of Orange County of how his family was whisked out of Saigon in the dark of night back in 1975 after the fall of Vietnam to communism. Andrew related how his family was allowed to leave with the clothes on their backs and only two small bags. Just imagine having to decide what are your most prized possessions in only a couple of hours. For most people this would be very difficult, given our propensity to collect more and more things in this wealthy society. But for Andrew’s father, the choice was clear. Their most prized possessions were… four dictionaries. Yes, dictionaries. Andrew’s father reasoned that moving to a new world as an Asian immigrant required knowledge and education, and it was this example of this key priority set by his father that left an indelible impression on him. Young Andrew went on to use his knowledge to build a successful career as an attorney, and most recently was former District 1 supervisor Janet Nguyen’s Chief of Staff (whose seat he just won after she moved on to state assembly).
When Andrew’s family settled in the United States, they were given food stamps. One day when Andrew’s father used food stamps, not really knowing what they were, he noticed that people looked upon him with disrespect. Upon discovering that food stamps were a form of welfare, Andrew’s father refused to use food stamps any further, declaring that his home would work for everything they had and would not accept a victim mentality as new immigrants in America. Wow, if only illegal immigrants in America, who admittedly are hard workers, refused to accept benefits that they did not rightfully earn. Andrew’s father knew this was a trap, teaching his children to depend on themselves and to use their knowledge and hard work to move forward in their lives. Another key point Andrew made in his speech was that even though his supervisor district is over 20% Vietnamese, it was by no means a slam dunk because other Vietnamese candidates were running as well who split the vote. What he relied on was the appeal of Republican values that focus on limited government, maximum liberty, and creating a business environment where people can pursue and realize their dreams based on their own hard work and ingenuity. Indeed, that’s why his message resonated with his constituency and of course, with the Lincoln Club. That is precisely what we are about and we celebrate for all no matter your background.
And this leads me to the title of this little post. Of course it was difficult for immigrant Asian families to succeed back in the 1970s in a far less accepting society than it is now. And yes, back then blacks were accepted no better after centuries of slavery and Jim Crow. Yet in 1975, blacks did have equal access to education for the most part, as I can attest to growing up in the south in Virginia. I was only a couple of years older than Andrew, and my parents always told me that an education was my ticket to a successful life, and that the worst for blacks was behind us so with hard work and determination I could succeed at whatever I set out to do. So Andrew’s parents were right, and so were mine. And there Andrew and I sat in that meeting today whereas we both probably looked wistfully into the future back in 1975. Four decades later, a recent statistic from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the nuclear family in America at near meltdown, with one in five children living on food stamps, and only 17% of black teens living with their nuclear family. Even in white families, we see an all time low of 54%. But when it comes to minority communities, these levels represent a needless tragedy. The lack of two parent homes and a lack of emphasis on education has consigned too many minority children to poverty and a future devoid of success. My only hope is that there will be a renaissance in these downtrodden communities, and obviously a renewed emphasis on education is in order. We can learn a lot from Andrew Do’s experience, and we must carry that message of hope into minority communities who have far more opportunity than in 1975.