Prince George's County has advised its Vietnamese residents of their civil rights and what to do if they believe they are victims of illegal discrimination.
At a recent workshop in the New Carrollton Library, Human Relations Commission officials discussed, through an interpreter, the rights of U.S. residents and how to recognize discriminatory practices in employment, housing, public accomodations, credit institutions and law enforcement.
Similar workshops have been held in the past for the Spanish-speaking and Korean communities in the county. More seminars will be held in the future, said William A. Welch Sr., executive director of the commission.
Some Vietnamese refugees said they have had "some problems" with discrimination since their arrival in the United States more than three years ago. However, they have filed few complaints.
Tran B. Tuyet, a Vietnamese social worker who conducted the workshop, said she had personally lodged a complaint against an apartment manager. Tuyet said she accompanied a newly employed Vietnamese looking for an apartment in Montgomery County last June. The manager, when told that the applicant had just gotten a job three weeks before, said one of the requirements for renting an apartment in the building was employment in the area for at least six months.
The social worker brought the case to local officials. Several days later, two other applicants, who had been employed for a number of weeks, were sent by Montgomery County authorities to the same apartment office. One applicant was Vietnamese, and the other was American. The manager told the Vietnamese he did not meet the qualifications, but he agreed to rent an apartment to the American. Tuyet said a hearing on the case is scheduled to take place this month.
Of about 800 complaints against discrimination from Prince George's residents since 1972, two have been filed by Vietnamese, according to county investigators. Approximately 1,000 Vietnamese live in the county, said a spokesman at the Department of Social Services.
Wendell Robinson, a Human Relations Commission's special investigator, said his office had received one allegation about housing discrimination from a Vietnamese within the past 13 months. The other complaint involved termination of employment, said special investigator William Binkley.
Employment has been the refugees' "top concern," in the words of some Vietnamese workshop participants, who said Vietnamese residents often run into difficulty finding any jobs except low paying positions. language difficulty is the major problem and, in the opinion of Phan Van Thanh, a former Vietnamese government bank official and now a University of Maryland employe, any discriminating employer can "take it as an excuse" for refusing to hire a foreigner.
The English fluency required should be "related to the job," said Binkley. A truck driver, besides his driving capabilities, needs English proficiency enough to understand instructions from his employer or supervisor on places to go, to stop, to park and on cargo to load and unload, said Binkley. Requiring a truck driver to take an English test at the college level is discrimination, he said.
One workshop participant, 63-year-old, bespectacled Nguyen Nhu Ba, said he was impressed by the rights of citizens to complain about unfair treatment by law enforcement officials.
"We learned . . . in Vietnam that (showing) respect to policemen and compliance with their order even in case of disagreement would mean peace in life." Ba said with a smile.