When I spoke on the floor of the California state Senate on Thursday, little did I know that my efforts to provide my colleagues with a different historical perspective regarding former Sen. Tom Hayden would become a national news story.
Two days earlier, the Senate honored Tom Hayden, who served in the Legislature but who also had a long history as an outspoken supporter of the communist North Vietnamese government during the Vietnam War.
Some might ask why, over four decades after the war ended, there remains so much emotion surrounding Hayden’s actions. Let me explain. I was born in Vietnam and my father and uncle served in the South Vietnamese Army. My uncle was executed by the communists and my father was sought for a “re-education” camp.
As a result, we fled on a 10-meter wooden boat across the South Asia Sea to find freedom and were fortunate to find refuge in the United States, a nation founded on the principles of freedom and democracy.
It was in the interest of representing the residents of the 34th district, home to the largest community of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam, that I felt compelled to tell my colleagues what Sen. Hayden’s support of the communist regime meant to the Vietnamese-American community.
Prior to my speech, I notified the Senate Pro Tem’s Office of my desire to speak on this subject matter and followed protocol. The majority party was well aware of my plans and out of respect to his family and to my colleagues, I chose to step out of the chamber on Tuesday during a ceremony in his honor and waited for another time to make my comments. Nevertheless, when I spoke on Thursday I was forcibly removed from the chamber by the Sergeant-at-Arms.
I am deeply disappointed with the majority party leadership’s actions because they didn’t just silence my voice, they silenced the voices of the more than 930,000 residents I represent. Their actions were not the result of some arcane Senate rule or the fact I didn’t follow protocol but because some senators did not like what I had to say.
In Vietnam to this day, free speech does not exist and on Thursday, I caught a glimpse of what that must be like. The freedoms we enjoy in this country are worth defending and I am proud to have been a part of that fight. As an American, I am committed to continue to fight to protect first amendment rights for the residents of my district and for the residents of the great state of California.
Janet Nguyen is a state senator representing the 34th district which includes the communities of Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Los Alamitos, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Westminster, unincorporated communities of Midway City and Rossmoor and portions of Anaheim, Huntington Beach, Long Beach and Orange.
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