AUSTIN, Texas–Texas Senator John Cornyn launched a new campaign website in Vietnamese, the third most common language spoken in Texas after English and Spanish. The site builds on his campaign’s efforts to reach out to different communities across Texas and the Senator’s years of working for human rights in Vietnam.
According to the 2010 Census, Texas is home to more than 210,000 Vietnamese-Americans. Texas is home to the second largest Vietnamese population after California, with large communities in the Houston, Dallas, and Austin areas. Most Vietnamese Texans are first or second-generation Americans, making bilingual communication an essential element of any outreach efforts.
The Vietnamese population in America was virtually nonexistent until the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, when political refugees first started arriving. Another wave, peaking in 1992, immigrated after the Refugee Act of 1980. Related laws granted additional opportunities to political prisoners, children of American servicemen, and those who had belonged to or supported the South Vietnamese military and were suffering retaliation from the communist Vietnamese government.
Predictably, Cornyn’s announcement was met with skepticism from Texas Democrats, including his opponent on the November ballot, David Alameel, who attacked Cornyn as being “anti-immigrant” and dismissed his efforts as “futile.”
This skepticism is unwarranted, according to Dr. Tram Ho, a Houston-area internal medicine doctor who spoke exclusively to Breitbart Texas about the Vietnamese community in Texas and Senator Cornyn’s outreach efforts. Dr. Ho and her father, a former officer in the South Vietnamese military, were imprisoned by the Vietnamese government shortly after the war ended, when she was just 10 years old. They escaped on boats to a refugee camp in Hong Kong, and then came to the United States when she was 13, along with her siblings. Her mother and youngest brother escaped a few years later and were finally reunited with them.
“We are very passionate about human rights,” said Ho, “because many of us escaped from Vietnam as political dissidents and still have family ties back there. We love this country because of the freedom and feel so sorry for [friends and family] back in Vietnam who can’t enjoy these rights.. What we are thirsty for is to bring these human rights to Vietnam, and then democracy will bring Vietnam to be a truer and closer ally to the United States.”
Ho first met Cornyn in 2008, when she contacted his office to seek help for Father Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest who had been imprisoned for criticizing the Vietnamese government. Ly had suffered a stroke in prison and there were concerns that he was not receiving adequate medical care while incarcerated.
After Ho and other members of the Vietnamese community contacted Cornyn and members of Texas’ Congressional delegation, Cornyn and others publicly spoke in support of Ly and were able to secure his temporary release to receive medical treatment. The Vietnamese government sent Ly back behind bars and efforts continue to secure his permanent release, but the temporary release undoubtedly saved his life.
According to Ho, Cornyn was a “tremendous help” in securing Ly’s temporary release from jail, and in advocating for the rights of other dissidents imprisoned in Vietnam. Ho also spoke about how Cornyn was “passionate” about the “human rights of the Vietnamese people,” sponsoring several human rights bills, publicly speaking out against efforts by the Vietnamese government to retaliate against its critics, and pressuring President Obama to take action.
Bloggers in Vietnam are in an especially precarious position, as the government controls all aspects of media. “Freedom of speech and journalism are ‘zero’ there,” Ho told Breitbart Texas. “They simply do not exist.” Bloggers have to register with their real names, and internet access is limited and requires prior approval, most have no choice but to use public internet cafes where every keystroke is monitored and reported to the government.
This past May, Dr. Cu Huy Ha Vu was released after spending several years in jail for criticizing the government. Cornyn had drafted a letter to Obama before he was to meet with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang in August 2013 urging the release of Dr. Vu and two other bloggers who worked with him named Dieu Cay and Ta Phong Tan.
This year, five other Vietnamese dissidents besides Dr. Vu were released as a result of pressure from the United States and Europe, but more than 200 still remain imprisoned, including Dr. Vu’s two co-bloggers. Vietnam is second only to China in jailing journalists, bloggers, and political and religious dissidents.
When asked about the Cornyn campaign’s new Vietnamese website, Ho was supportive and cheered the effort. Noting that the language gap hinders the outreach efforts of many candidates, she described the website as “a crucial, important way to reach out to the Vietnamese-American voter” that would create opportunities for outreach that would otherwise not be available.
Cornyn’s Vietnamese website joins the campaign’s current English and Spanish websites and will be a part of Cornyn’s “Keep it Red” statewide grassroots outreach efforts. As of today, it appears to be the only Vietnamese-language website among all the statewide candidates in Texas.
In a statement released by the campaign, Cornyn said, “I think it’s important to serve all 26 million Texans as U.S. Senator, so my campaign is reaching out to many different communities around the state. The Vietnamese Texans have always been a hardworking, faithful people who cherish freedom, entrepreneurship and education. I know that we share common values, and I want Vietnamese Texans to make their home inside the Republican Party.”
“Texas is an increasingly diverse state,” added Cornyn social media coordinator Amy Miller. “Senator Cornyn recognizes that it’s time to stop talking at people, and start talking to them about the conservative policies that make Texas great. So many of these communities have never had the opportunity to talk to conservative campaigns, and our goal is to change that, starting now. We need to keep building relationships and reaching out to new voters, and if speaking a little Spanish or Vietnamese helps, we’re up to the challenge.”
Sarah Rumpf is a political and communications consultant living in Austin. You can follow her on Twitter at @RumpfShaker.