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San Jose City Council Should Back Down to Save a Life

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Message Ai Viet Nguyen
Below is my Open Letter to Councilwoman Madison Nguyen and San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed.

San Jose, March 10, 2008

Dear Councilwoman Madison Nguyen and Mayor Chuck Reed,

In the issue of naming the mile-long stretch of Story Road, I am probably a member of the "silent majority," whom you have cited as a reason not to yield to the very loud demand of the Little Saigon demonstrators. Like the Mercury News, I prefer the name New Saigon to the name Little Saigon. Although I am not sure whether I belong in the majority, as you believe, I surely have been silent. I have never demonstrated in front of the city hall, or spoken at your meetings, and probably I never will. Never will I go on a thirst and hunger strike on this naming issue like Mr. Ly Tong, a prominent member in the Little Saigon camp. Considering how silent I have been, I commend you for your strenuous attempt to listen to me despite months of unprecedented public outcry to the contrary.

However, today, I write to ask you to give up the fight that you have been fighting on my behalf and to give in to the demonstrators' demand that the one-mile stretch of Story Road be named Little Saigon. I have been astonished by the relentless passion of the Little Saigon demonstrators. Regardless of whether I am among the silent majority, I am convinced that, on this issue, my choice should not count as much as that of a demonstrator. He cares about the issue deeply enough to spend the time and effort to show up to rally every week for months on end. I, on the other hand, besides my aesthetic preference, have no reason to care what the name should be. Furthermore, many people appear to have made this part of their life struggle. If someone, such as Mr. Tong, is risking his life for this, his choice definitely should outweigh mine. To give you a crude analogy, if someone stopped me on the street and demanded $5 otherwise he would kill himself, I would give him $5. This naming issue is worth enormously more to the demonstrators and Mr. Tong than it does to me, so much more that even if I am in what you call the silent majority, it still makes more sense for you, from the utilitarian perspective, to give Mr. Tong and the demonstrators what they want. Rest assured that if you do, I would not be disappointed for more than five seconds.

Rather, I was disappointed that you did not do so in your last meeting but instead chose to fight on with yet another resolution, this time, to give the power of naming the road section to the business owners. I think that your resolution is unhelpful. The name of the mile-long stretch would be the city's recognition of the entire Vietnamese American community in San Jose. As such, on this issue, the city should listen to all Vietnamese Americans in San Jose, not just those who live in District 7 or the business owners. Your sudden change of course is akin to giving the power of naming the city's main airport to just the residents who live near it. It baffles me that you chose to make this move instead of ending the madness.

You have shown your unwavering resolve to do what you think is right in the face of noisy opposition. I respect that. But I also believe that your battle has reached a point no longer worth fighting, now that Mr. Tong has thrown his life on the line. If for no other reason, you should give in now to save his life before this issue escalates even further and before this city goes down in history as one that lets someone die over some silly road naming issue. If someone must die protesting something, let it be something big. You do not want Mr. Tong's death on your hands, not now, not over this.

It would be nice if the name I prefer were chosen. However, what is decisively more important to me is that you return your and this city's attention to the issues that really matter. It is good enough for me that the Vietnamese American community will be recognized by the name of a road section. Let those who are clearly more emotionally vested in this issue than I am have their way. It is time to move on.

Nguyen Ai Viet, District 7 resident.
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San Jose City Council Should Back Down to Save a Life

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