'Red-baiting' fliers mailed to Vietnamese Americans in tight California congressional race

Seema Mehta and Anh Do, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

LOS ANGELES — The campaign flier sent to Vietnamese-American voters in Orange County is heavily doctored and designed to inflame. A Democratic congressional candidate is photoshopped in front of a classroom of children, a copy of “The Communist Manifesto” in hand.

On the wall hang images of communist icons Mao Zedong, Vladimir Lenin and Ho Chi Minh. (Bernie Sanders, who calls himself a Democratic Socialist, is up there, too.) A single fist in the Black power salute teaches students the number one. Two is symbolized by hands holding a hammer and sickle.

“Jay Chen invited China into our children’s classes” is written in Vietnamese on the chalkboard.

The flier, crafted and funded by GOP Rep. Michelle Steel, would be effective in much of the country. But it has the potential to be particularly powerful in Steel’s Orange County-centered district. She is running for reelection in the new 45th congressional district, which has an Asian-American plurality. The district is home to the largest concentration of people of Vietnamese descent outside of Vietnam — and depicting her Democratic rival as a communist sympathizer could give Steel’s campaign a big boost.

“Within the AAPI community, especially among the Vietnamese, there is a well-known and long-standing visceral opposition to communism. That’s why many Vietnamese settled in the United States following the Vietnam War,” said Tom K. Wong, an associate professor of political science at UC San Diego.

“If there is a rumor a candidate has ties to some kind of past regime that an AAPI community has fled, that can be incredibly damaging,” he said.


Chen, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, called the flier “ridiculous.”

“I thought it was really absurd, and beyond that, really dangerous, the way she is exploiting fears within the immigrant community for political gain,” he said.

Chen pointed out that his grandmother fled communist China and he is a Naval Reserve officer with top-secret security clearance.

“This is red-baiting since it entails a Taiwanese American being accused of bringing Maoist thought into American classrooms,” said Long T. Bui, an associate professor of global and international studies at UC Irvine. “None of this is part of Chen’s educational platform.”


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