Vietnamese Americans urge cultural sensitivity

May 2, 2012

The dance floor at V3 Lounge, in Falls Church, was full on a recent Sunday evening.  But some people were sitting down, drinking bottled water and talking about Aug. 11.

Most were owners of small shops at Eden Center, a hub for Vietnamese shopping and eating in Falls Church. This gathering was one of several community meetings held since police raided 13 Eden Center cafes Aug. 11 and arrested 19 people on misdemeanor charges, including gambling and alcohol violations.

The crackdown, widely criticized in the Eden Center community, spurred an urgency to organize. Business leaders have held protests, roundtable discussions with government officials, and made a trip to Richmond where they brought up their concerns to state legislators. They plan future protests and have collected signatures for a petition to demand a civil rights investigation of how the enforcement was carried out.

They say they want to work with the area authorities to eradicate crime, but most importantly, they say, they want respect.

“I would like to see ethnic sensitivity, civil rights sensitivity,” said Due H. Tran, an attorney who has become a leader with the Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Washington. Tran represented several of the people arrested that Thursday. Some of them have since been found not guilty or had charges against them dropped.

Tran said the community is concerned about a lack of ethnic diversity in local governments and the area’s police force.

The Falls Church Police Department doesn’t have any officers who are Vietnamese or of Vietnamese descent and none of the officers in the police force speak Vietnamese, Falls Church spokeswoman Susan Finarelli said.

The city, however, has increased efforts to improve the relationship with the Eden Center business community by designating a liaison officer and increasing the city presence at the plaza, Falls Church officials said. City staff is planning an informational panel this month for Eden Center businesses.

Although the Vietnamese-American population in Falls Church is not big, they have a strong presence in the city’s business community and thousands of the region’s Vietnamese Americans visit Eden Center daily.

“The focus is on doing the outreach … and also establishing good dialogue between us and the business community,” Mayor Nader Baroukh said. He said the city could strive to hire Vietnamese speakers, particularly in the police department.

Meanwhile business leaders are speaking about more community policing and sensitivity training to deal with the Asian population, which has driven a lot of the population growth in Virginia in the last decade.

“This is not a race matter. All communities are going to have some issues,” Tran said. “Sensitivity training is definitely going to help.”

Bihn “Gene” Nguyen, the owner of V3 Lounge and president of the Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce, said they simply want to be treated fairly as contributors to the local economy.

“Even before the raids, during the hardship of the economy, a lot of the tenants have had concerns about the policing,” Nguyen said “We feel we have been unfairly targeted.”

This story is part of a partnership between The Washington Post and students from American University. To read more stories from this collaboration, click here.

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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