UPDATED:  December 1, 2006 8:44 PM
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Wife Hong Le Webb, ‘Real Virginians’ Trounce ‘Macaca’ Slur
By: Rita M. Gerona-Adkins

FALLS CHURCH, VA --- The Vietnamese are on a roll in both sides of the Pacific.

            Their country of origin, Vietnam, hosted for the first time the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation, an economic savant of 21 Asian and Pacific countries. After a feverish transition from communist to a more capitalistic form of government, it is now the fourth ranking trade partner of the United States, and is in the cusp of gaining a coveted membership in the World Trade Organization.

            On this side of the Pacific, Vietnamese American voters in Virginia helped tilt the balance of political power in the midterm election from the well-entrenched Republicans to the victorious Democrats in the United States Congress.

            “Democrats Take Senate, Thanks to Virginia,” a New York Times sub-headlined on Nov. 10, with a final 51 to 49 advantage.  And so went the nation, too, with help from a big turnout of Vietnamese American and other Asian Pacific American voters in Virginia.

            If that may seem a stretch, ask the Vietnamese Americans in Northern Virginia and elsewhere in the Old Commonwealth who flocked to the polls in greater numbers to help elect Democratic candidate James Webb in a tight-wire senatorial contest with incumbent Republican U.S. Senator George Allen.

Webb is the husband of one of their own, Vietnam-born and Virginia-bred Hong Le Webb, 38, a privacy-preferring corporate securities lawyer whom the electorate, including Asian Pacific Americans, hardly was aware until the election.  Thrust into the public eye in the later part of her husband’s six-month campaign -- a move that was spurred by political ads that painted Webb as opposing women’s entry into the military and for having remarked and written sexiest allusions to women – Hong Le, with her long black hair and Asian features, enhanced the picture of diversity that even Virginia and the conservative South have increasingly embraced.  

Her personable presence by Webb’s side, and candid and enlightening interviews with the media [including the omnipresent YouTube], can be assumed to have helped in drawing out more Vietnamese American votes, as well as those of other Asian Pacific Americans who altogether form 3.1 percent of the voting age population in the state of Virginia. 

“Those ads do not give Jim an accurate picture of what he truly is, a very fair and family-oriented person,” she told Asian Fortune when spotted in the sidelines during a campaign rally Nov. 2 in Arlington.

Touching her rounded middle in a womanly gesture, she also told Asian Fortune that she is expecting to deliver their first child in December. Both she and Webb, who met years ago while doing business in Vietnam, have children from earlier marriages.

Vietnam Ties – A Political Plus?

Webb’s close ties to Vietnam – as a U.S. Marine combat veteran who fought in the trenches, won honors for his military service in Vietnam, which later catapulted him to Secretary to the Navy during Republican President Reagan’s administration  – further burnished his appeal especially to the Vietnamese American electorate, many of whom had fled their country during the war.

As one of the immigrant groups from Southeast Asia that sought refuge, and helped increase the population, in Virginia, Vietnamese Americans opened up not only new economic markets but also opportunities for political empowerment for their community.

An example of their impact [as well as of other APA ethnic groups] is the proliferation of their small businesses and other forms of entrepreneurship that made the Mixing Bowl behemoth a necessity in order to ease Virginia’s transportation needs and accommodate its growing economy.

“Jim Webb is a good man,” Tuy Le, an enthusiastic campaigner from Fairfax, VA, told Asian Fortune.

Tuy is one of the young APA members of the “Real Virginians for Webb,” a multi-racial and multi-ethnic group that formed overnight to counteract what was deemed as xenophobic if not racist remarks by Allen when he referred to S.D. Sidarth, a Virginia-born and raised video tracker for the Webb campaign, as “macaca”, a term for a monkey specie and which is regarded as a slur in some African countries.

APA members, notably Esther Oh, D. Van Long, Dewita Soeharjono, and Annabel Park, were among those who helped organize volunteers for sign-making, sign-waving, literature distribution, phone banking, and get-out-the-vote sorties.

            “Please bring your own cell phone if you have unlimited minutes on the weekends.  That way we will be assured of having enough phones for everyone.” Their flyer urged.

The group showed up in numbers in a rally held at Café Asia on Nov. 2, following the huge rally that jam-packed Clarendon Ballroom in Arlington, where actor Michael J. Fox and former Democratic primary presidential candidate General Wesley Clark gave rousing endorsements for Webb.

Tuy gave a passionate impromptu speech at the rally, eliciting long applause of approval not only for his endorsement of Webb, but especially for his unabashed public oratory.

When this writer asked if Webb’s ties to Vietnam may have been the consideration for his support, Tuy responded, “Jim Webb is a man that will fight for you, with dignity and honor.”

But other than having fought in Vietnam, will he fight for issues that are good for Virginia?

“The fact that he fought in my country with a very good record, he will fight for fairness in other areas of business,” he argued. “As one who cares for people, he will promote fairness, good education for families, and will protect you from unfairness [coming] from people who may hate you.”

Congressman James Moran, a Democrat who represents Virginia’s 8th District, also delivered a stump speech after being introduced by Joe Montano, a Democratic National Committee staff. Other speakers included old-time Democrat campaigner Rose Chu, Jackie Bong Wright and other community leaders.

The APA rally was all the more roused up when Hong Le Webb’s message was read, part of which said, “Please know that Jim has deep appreciation for the Asian culture and history, and will make us all proud when he gets to the Senate.  Thank you and God bless!”

APAs Flock to Rallies

She was by his side at her husband’s victory rally held Nov. 9 at Arlington’s Court House Plaza, where he first announced his campaign six months earlier. And so were his APA supporters, some of which tried to bore themselves through the sardines-like crowd to get to him with their signs and digital cameras. A cross section of the APA community – Vietnamese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Japanese, Cambodian, Indian, Pakistani – as well as representatives from Arab American communities, along with white, Hispanic, black and other racial and/or ethnic Americans, made a truly eclectic spectacle of the “real” Virginia.

A proliferation of support signs identifying their APA communities added to the pageantry of the event: “Filipino Americans for Webb,” “Chinese Americans for Webb,” “Indian Americans for Webb,” “Pakistani Americans for Webb,” “Arab Americans for Webb, “Vietnamese Americans for Webb” are among the most obvious ones.

Loc D. Tran, an analyst with the U.S. Army proudly held up his Vietnamese support sign until the crowd thinned.

“We need to speak up, come out and vote,” he told Asian Fortune.  “This is America, and we have to make people know we are here.”

Webb: ‘Economic Fairness and Social Justice’

In his thank-you remarks, Webb reiterated his concern for “economic fairness and social justice” and renewed his pledge to join New York Senator Charles Schumer (D), who was on the stage with him along with VA Gov. Tim Kaine, in raising the minimum wage as among the first steps for helping American workers.

He also acknowledged that Sen. Allen “was gracious” in his telephone call he made an hour earlier to congratulate him. However, he lost no time in stressing the plea he said he made to President George Bush to have his party “stop the politics of divisiveness and character assassination.”

Someone at this point shouted “Goodbye macaca!” – which did not elicit an approving response from the crowd, a sign that may suggest that Virginians are moving on.

“I am indebted to you, and I will not forget my loyalties, thank you so much!” Webb, with raised arms, ended his remarks.

Before exiting the plaza, a smiling Webb, with Hong in his arm,  posed for Asian Fortune, reiterating his message, “Thank you all for your support!”  Hong said the same.

Allen: Gracious Concession

Allen, who in his campaign also elicited significant support from the Vietnamese community and other APA groups especially those in the Hampton Roads area and Virginia’s suburbs, was gracious and conciliatory in his farewell remarks, saying “I see the people of Virginia, the owners of the government, have spoken, and I respect their decision.”

Having lost by only about 9,000 votes out of Virginia’s 2.3 million votes cast, he could have elected to have a recount at the state’s expense.

“I see no good purpose being served by continuously and needlessly expending money and causing any more personal animosity,” he told a crowd of saddened but upbeat supporters who gathered for his concession speech in Alexandria.

He also reiterated his record:

“We have more people in welfare reform living independent lives… Families, retirees, entrepreneurs are keeping more of what they earn …with better education, with more knowledge, and with better opportunities in their lives…For people who have committed crimes, they are staying behind bars…”

He ended by saying that he would continue to serve Virginia as “an ordinary citizen”, adding, “I want to focus on how best Virginia can be effectively served by Virginia’s Senator Webb.”

Vellie Dietrich-Hall, founder and first president of the four-year old Filipino American Republicans of Virginia, a Bush-appointed member of the White House Advisory Commission of Asians and Pacific Islanders, and staunch friend of Allen who helped persuade him to cosponsor a Senate Resolution honoring the Filipino World II veterans in the 109th Congress, took in Allen’s election loss with a wry comment:

“Money talks in politics.  The DNC [Democratic National Committee] poured a lot of money – some $5 M for TV commercials.”

However, she acknowledged that Allen’s “misstep” was that he might have just assumed that the “macaca” controversy “would just go away” in time.  

Referring to FARC’s “learning experience,” she said that participating in the campaign, knocking on doors, and other GOTV activities not just in Northern Virginia but also in the Hampton Roads area, prepared them for a better job next time.

“We will start our grassroots-level training early,” she said, without directly referring to the 2008 presidential contest.

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