By Jacob Wilson/Garden Grove Journal
A two-month battle over this year’s Black April commemoration in Westminster appears to have ended in compromise. But members and supporters of the Vietnamese American Community of Southern California are claiming victory.
Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen and the VACSC will each hold separate Black April ceremonies at Sid Goldstein Freedom Park in Westminster on Friday. The date is known as Black April in Vietnamese communities. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the fall of South Vietnam.
“We need the park so we can commemorate and thank the soldiers,” said Son Do, a 20-year Westminster resident and supporter of the VACSC. “On that day we have a ceremony for fallen soldiers who fought and sacrificed for the country, wherever they were from.”
Supervisor Nguyen’s Black April ceremony had originally been the only scheduled event at the park for April 30 and would have run from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. The VACSC had been trying to take control of the event and had asked the Westminster City Council to revoke Supervisor Nguyen’s permit.
The VACSC insisted that Black April ceremonies are supposed to be organized by the community for the benefit of the community as a whole and not for the benefit of an individual.
“We cannot stand by and watch Supervisor Nguyen turn this solemn occasion into a political theater for her own personal gain,” wrote Lilly Nguyen in a letter to the council. Other letter writers also included this line.
Supporters of Supervisor Nguyen argued that since she obtained an event permit first, she had the right to organize the Black April ceremony.
“Supervisor Janet Nguyen holds the legal permit to organize the Black April Memorial Service and she is merely one of 38 community groups who are participating,” Anthony Nguyen wrote in a letter to the council. “It is completely false to say that this event belongs to the Supervisor’s office. It belongs to the community.”
Anthony Nguyen also said that the VACSC also does not have any special right to organize the event on its own.
“Black April is a public occasion in the Vietnamese community,” he wrote. “No one organization can lay claim as the official organizers of this remembrance.”
Supervisor Nguyen’s event will now take place between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. The VACSC’s event will run from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. The evening time frame will allow the latter group to hold its planned candlelight vigil.
The council approved the changes by a 3-1 vote at a special meeting on April 21. Afterwards, roughly 300 VACSC members and supporters, including members of the Union of Vietnamese Student Associations, celebrated outside council chambers.
Council members Tyler Diep, Andy Quach and Tri Ta voted yes, all agreeing that it was the only option available. Mayor Pro Tem Frank Fry voted no.
“We have certain rules and you should play by the rules,” Fry said. “You can’t change the rules midstream. And it is not necessarily about majority rule; it’s about what is proper and right.”
Mayor Margie Rice abstained from voting because she did not want to be seen as saying yes or no to any particular group.
“I do not bend under pressure,” Rice said. “I will not give in to groups that run roughshod over our system. This is a city of the people.”
Supervisor Nguyen’s office originally applied for an “intent to meet” permit for April 30 as far back as August. An “intent to meet” permit limits the number of attendees to 300 or fewer and disallows amplified sound.
Her opponents charged that the limited number was Supervisor Nguyen’s way of controlling the event to fit her own agenda. Neil Nguyen, a Westminster-based attorney and vice-president of the King Hung Overseas Foundation, said that capping the attendance would turn the ceremony into a propaganda meeting.
The VACSC asked the council to revoke Supervisor Nguyen’s permit because they expected attendance to reach the thousands. But on April 1 Westminster city manager Donald Lamm agreed to modify the permit to allow a larger number of attendees. The offer did not sway the VACSC.
Supervisor Nguyen’s staff and VACSC representatives met several times to discuss a joint event but negotiations were unsuccessful. Neil Nguyen said the groups negotiated for close to 100 hours in total.
“We were trying to have the groups work together,” he said. “There were too many differences.”
Anthony Nguyen laid the blame on the VACSC. “We have made every concession possible to encourage collaboration,” he said in his letter. “The other side continues to find excuses to try to get their way.”
Calls to Supervisor Nguyen’s office were not returned.