“When I was a freshman at the University of California, Riverside, in 1988, I drove a carload of excited fellow Vietnamese students to nearby Orange County. It was only 13 years after the end of the Vietnam War, but already there was a Vietnamese American Dream, symbolized by our destination, the Asian Garden Mall in Westminster. To the strains of Vietnamese pop music, we ate Vietnamese food, browsed Vietnamese goods, and sat in the balcony of the American-style mall, sipping Vietnamese iced coffee while we watched Vietnamese people.
The mall was the heart of the Little Saigon in Orange County. By 1988, Little Saigon was already firmly established, with multitudes of Vietnamese shops, restaurants and businesses lining Bolsa Avenue. This community was populated with Vietnamese and ethnic Chinese refugees who had fled the end of the war. It was deeply anti-Communist. Orange County as a whole was also anti-Communist and quite conservative, but it was also very white at the time. The arrival of so many refugees from Vietnam in the 1970s and 1980s was not welcomed by everyone in Westminster and Orange County.
Thirty years later, Westminster has a Vietnamese-American mayor, and Orange County has elected several Vietnamese-American politicians. Most have been Republicans, and vocally anti-Communist. But Communism is no longer the national issue it once was, and while the older generation of Vietnamese-Americans tends to be Republican and conservative, the younger generation has largely abandoned the Republican Party, either to become Democrats or independents. These shifts point toward larger changes in the once staunchly Republican Orange County, which is today leaning more Democratic and independent. The political changes are at least partly due to demographics in a county that is now one-fifth Asian and one-third Latino, whereas in 1980 four out of five residents were non-Latino white.
This mix of demographics and ideology in Orange County may be one of the prime reasons the Republican Party is committed to an anti-immigration agenda that seeks to turn America back to before 1965. It was then that a new law, the Immigration and Naturalization Act, created a more equitable immigration policy. For decades before, the United States had kept people out who came from Africa, Asia or Latin America, beginning with the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. If you hail from one of those continents, the 1965 Immigration Act has mostly been a success. But for the Republican Party, whose base has beenmostly white for years, the prospect of a majority-minority country that has arisen after 1965 might spell political decline.”