When Vietnamese refugees first settled in the coastal town of Seadrift, Texas, they encountered prejudice and resentment from some of the locals. It culminated on Nov. 25, 1979, when the Ku Klux Klan came to the fishing village. They menaced the Vietnamese fishermen who were competing with white fishermen and told them to get off the water and get out of town. This was part of the hostile reception given to some of the 130,000 Vietnamese refugees who came to the U.S. after the fall of Saigon.
Four decades later, the Vietnamese are now a fixture along the U.S. Gulf Coast. The arc of the Vietnamese resettlement experience is instructive history, and it offers a lens through which to view current attitudes toward immigrants.
In 1979, a Vietnamese refugee shoots and kills a white crab fisherman at the public town docks in Seadrift, TX. What began as a dispute over fishing territory erupts into violence and ignites a maelstrom of boat burnings, KKK intimidation, and other hostilities against Vietnamese refugees along the Gulf Coast.
Set during the early days of Vietnamese refugee arrival in the U.S., SEADRIFT is a feature documentary that examines the circumstances that led up to the shooting and its dramatic aftermath, and reveals the unexpected consequences that continue to reverberate today.
Seadrift is remembered for a killing that took place on August 3, 1979. Prior to this date there had been several negative racial incidents between local white citizens and Vietnamese refugees. As the central area relied heavily on the commercial fishing industry for income, many whites felt threatened by the increasing number of Vietnamese. On the night of August 3, 1979, a fight broke out between Billy Joe Aplin, 35-year-old crabber and Sau Van Nguyen, a Vietnamese crabber which ended with the fatal shooting of Aplin. Within hours of the shooting, several Vietnamese boats were burned and there was an attempted bombing of a crab plant that employed Vietnamese workers. Sau Van Nguyen and his brother Chinh Nguyen were tried for murder and acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. The incident inspired the creation of both the 1981 documentary Fire on the Water and the 1985 film Alamo Bay. In January 2019, Title 8 Productions, LLC premiered an independent documentary called, Seadrift, in Park City Utah. It continues to be screened throughout the United States. The documentary series “Reel South” examined the 1979 incident in the 2020 film “Seadrift”.
1865 In Pulaski, Tennessee, a group of men who had fought in the Confederate army form a secret society, which they call the Ku Klux Klan. The name was likely derived from the Greek word kyklos, which means circle.
1868 The Ku Klux Klan spreads to Texas.
4/30/1975 The Fall of Saigon: Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, is captured by North Vietnamese forces. The South Vietnamese government surrenders. Saigon is renamed Ho Chi Minh City, and the Vietnam War effectively comes to an end.
1975-1979 The fall of Saigon prompts a wave of Vietnamese emigration, as South Vietnamese refugees flee communist rule with urgency, often in small fishing vessels. Many of these “boat people” are lost to drowning, pirates and dehydration. The sheer numbers overwhelm Southeast Asian host nations, some of which resort to pushing the boats back out to sea.
late 1970s Thousands of Vietnamese refugees resettle in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, on the Gulf Coast. Many take up fishing and shrimping, creating competition for local fishermen and shrimpers.
1/1979 Nguyen Van Nam, a former Colonel in the South Vietnamese army, moves to Seabrook, Texas. He eventually becomes head of the Vietnamese Fishermen’s Association.
8/3/1979 Following two years of tension between Vietnamese and local fishermen and shrimpers, two Vietnamese brothers kill a local crab fisherman in Seadrift, Texas. In the aftermath, four shrimp boats owned by Vietnamese are set on fire and a Vietnamese home is firebombed. Eventually, the two brothers are acquitted on all charges, on the grounds of self-defense.
1/24/1981 Local fisherman Gene Fisher meets with Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon Louis Beam.
2/14/1981 The Ku Klux Klan sponsors a fish fry and rally, which includes a cross-burning ceremony, to support Texas fishermen and to protest increased competition from Vietnamese refugees. Some 750 people attend, including more than two dozen men wearing white robes and carrying rifles and shotguns. A fishing dinghy labeled “U.S.S. Viet Cong” is burned at the rally.
3/15/1981 Local fishermen and Ku Klux Klan stage boat ride to intimidate the Vietnamese. On board are robed, hooded, and armed Klansmen, some of whom are armed. They ride up Clear Creek Channel to Colonel Nam’s house.
3/29/1981 Two Vietnamese fishing boats are set on fire in Galveston Bay.
4/16/1981 Vietnamese Fishermen file suit against Ku Klux Klan in Houston, seeking a preliminary injunction.
4/30/1981 Depositions start in lawsuit.
5/1/1981 Judge McDonald hears first motion for a protective order.
5/8/1981 Judge McDonald hears second motion for a protective order and motion seeking psychiatric evaluation of Beam.
5/11/1981 Preliminary injunction hearing begins, and continues for four days.
5/12/1981 On the second day of the hearing, the Texas legislature passes a law limiting the number of shrimping licenses that can be issued in 1981 and 1982.
5/14/1981 Judge McDonald grants motion for a preliminary injunction in part, barring defendants from unlawful acts of violence and intimidation against the Vietnamese.
5/15/1981 The fishing season opens.
7/15/1981 Judge McDonald files opinion granting the preliminary injunction in part, finding a likelihood of success on plaintiffs’ civil rights and antitrust claims and holding that “it is in the public interest to enjoin [the Klan’s] self help tactics of threats of violence and intimidation and permit individuals to pursue their chosen occupation free from racial animus.” Vietnamese Fishermen’s Ass’n v. Knights of Ku Klux Klan, 518 F. Supp. 993, 1016-17 (S.D. Tex. 1981).
8/13/1981 Judge McDonald issues order dismissing certain defendants and making injunction permanent against remaining defendants (including Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Louis Beam, and Eugene Fisher). The order notes that the only remaining issue is the request by the intervenor State of Texas and other plaintiffs for the Court to enjoin military operations of the Ku Klux Klan, otherwise known as the Texas Emergency Reserve.
6-3-1982 Judge McDonald files opinion enjoining the Klan from, inter alia, maintaining a private military or paramilitary organization, carrying on military or paramilitary training, and parading in public on land or water with firearms. Vietnamese Fishermen’s Ass’n v. Knights of Ku Klux Klan, 543 F. Supp. 198 (S.D. Tex. 1982).
Within days, a small white tent stood alone near the washed out ashes of Santa Ana’s Chinatown in 1906 with a cautionary sign: “leprosy: keep out.”
An ailing Wong Woh Ye lay inside the tent in quarantine.
The day before the fire, his documented case of the disease, which was later disputed, prompted an emergency meeting of the Santa Ana City Council on the morning of May 25, 1906. Acting on a resolution drafted by the city’s Board of Health, council members unanimously moved to condemn Chinatown’s remaining buildings and directed the fire marshal to burn it all to the ground.
As word spread, more than 1,000 residents gathered in downtown later that night to watch the fiery finale of a years-long campaign against Santa Ana’s Chinese residents in the wake of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The Los Angeles Times deemed the blaze “as picturesque an event as could be imagined.”
But now, more than a century later, it’s seen as a shameful chapter in the city’s history — one that Santa Ana’s current council is moving to officially apologize for.
“We just want to do what’s right and recognize past wrongs,” said Thai Viet Phan, Santa Ana’s first ever Vietnamese American councilwoman. “I felt it was really important to me as someone who is trying to do my best to revitalize our Asian American heritage in the city.”
In a joint effort, Councilman Johnathan Ryan Hernandez, Planning Commissioner Alan Woo, Assistant City Manager Steven Mendoza and Councilwoman Phan worked on the draft apology.
It offers a formal atonement to “all Chinese immigrants and their descendants who came to Santa Ana and were the victims of systemic and institutional racism, xenophobia and discrimination.”
The resolution is also unequivocal in naming the past city officials responsible as well as deeming the burning of Chinatown as an act of “fundamental injustice, terror, cruelty and brutality.”
It served as the culmination of an effort to rid the area of Chinese residents that intensified when the city bought a lot in 1904 that abutted the enclave as the site of a new city hall.
Fred Lau, the late proprietor of Santa Ana Food Market, was one of the first Chinese Americans to return to Santa Ana during the 1940s. He opened his grocery store in 1949.
“The Lau family gave a lot of us our first jobs in Santa Ana when we were teenagers,” Hernandez said. “They had close relationships with my family.”
Santa Ana Food Market, which is still in business today, is where the councilman recalled first learning of the burning down of Chinatown from its owners.
With that history in mind, Hernandez began working with Woo, his Planning Commission appointee, on ways to redress the injustice when Phan had received an email earlier this year from a resident about recent Chinatown arson apologies elsewhere, including San Jose.
Woo felt a Santa Ana apology as timely as ever.
“There’s a wave of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian hate that has been fueled over the last two years,” he said. “It was important to ask for this, not just for me, but on behalf of the Chinese community because often we’re not viewed as citizens. We are treated as foreigners rather than citizens.”
In addition to the apology, there have also been efforts to commemorate the history with an on-site memorial.
During an October 2020 Downtown Inc. board meeting, a consultant briefly mentioned how an architect and urban planner were working with local historian Dylan Almendral and Chinese American groups on such a project.
“It was certainly a step in the right direction,” Hernandez said.
Taking the lead, supportive council members want to allocate funding from the city’s budget for a future memorial.
But the apology is slated to come first.
During the Santa Ana City Council meeting on May 3, council members directed staff to prepare the resolution to come back before a vote — and soon.
Phan insisted that the vote happen in May, which is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month; earlier in the meeting, both she and Hernandez presented a proclamation to the Lau family in recognition of the month.
The councilwoman also suggested that, if passed, there be a ceremonial signing of the resolution at the parking lot on Third and Bush Street, the site where Chinatown once stood.
Councilman David Peñaloza offered support for the apology and a ceremonial signing.
“It’s a sad, sad chapter in this city’s history,” he said. “We need to recognize the mistake that was made by previous leadership here.”
The burning down of Chinatown wasn’t the last time disease provided cover for discrimination in Santa Ana.
Less than two weeks after the Chinatown blaze, Ye was found dead inside his quarantine tent.
Before that, Councilman John Cubbon resigned from his post on May 28, 1906. The Times reported that he voted to authorize the burning down of Chinatown only after “considerable wrangling” and though there wasn’t an official explanation given, “reliable sources” placed that decision as the reason for his sudden resignation.
For Woo, the current council’s discussion this week marked a significant step toward making amends long overdue.
“The people’s democracy was used against Chinese Americans,” he said. “That deserves an apology. The lives of over 200 Chinese immigrants were affected by that decision.”
The University of Southern California is apologizing to former Japanese American students whose educations were interfered with by the school during World War II.
USC President Carol Folt will issue a formal apology to the former students and award them honorary degrees posthumously, according to the Los Angeles Times. The school is also asking the public for assistance in locating the families of around 120 students who went to USC from 1941-42.
“This is a stained part of our history,” USC Associate Senior Vice President for Alumni Relations Patrick Auerbach told the Times. “While we can’t change what happened in the past … the university can certainly still do right by their families and let them know that we are posthumously awarding them honorary degrees so that they can occupy that place in the Trojan family, which they deserve.”
An executive order issued by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943 forced the removal of people of Japanese descent from the West Coast, placing tens of thousands of people in detention camps.
USC refused to release the transcripts of Japanese American students so they could attend another university, the Los Angeles Times reported. When some students attempted to return to USC after the war, the school would not recognize their previously completed courses and told them they would have to start over, their surviving family members noted.
USC alumni have been pushing for the school to apologize for their actions toward Japanese American students during World War II for years, but the issue gained new momentum after George Floyd’s murder last year, which prompted many institutions to examine their roles in acts of racism.
USC law students last year publicized their research project centering on the issue, titled “Forgotten Trojans,” and an Academic Senate committee also pushed for the school to formally recognize the issue, the Times reported.
Folt will officially make the apology and award the degrees next spring at an Asian Pacific Alumni Association gala and will also recognize the former students at the school’s commencement in May, according to the Times.
The ballclub announced the name change Friday with a video on Twitter narrated by actor Tom Hanks, ending months of internal discussions triggered by a national reckoning by institutions and teams to permanently drop logos and names considered racist.
The name change is effective at the end of the 2021 season.
Cleveland’s new name was inspired by the large landmark stone edifices — referred to as traffic guardians — that flank both ends of the Hope Memorial Bridge, which connects downtown to Ohio City. As the team moved closer to making a final decision on the name, team owner Paul Dolan said he found himself looking closely at the huge art deco sculptures.
“Frankly, I hadn’t studied them that closely until we started talking about them and I should emphasize, we’re not named after the bridge, but there’s no question that it’s a strong nod to those and what they mean to the community,” he said following a news conference at the ballpark.
The organization spent most of the past year whittling down a list of potential names that was at nearly 1,200 just over a month ago. But the process, which the team said included 140 hours of interviews with fans, community leaders, front-office personnel and a survey of 40,000 fans, quickly accelerated, and the club landed on Guardians.
Dolan has said last summer’s social unrest, touched off by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, spurred his intention to change the club’s name.
“We do feel like we’re doing the right thing and that’s what’s driving this,” Dolan said. “I know some people disagree, but if anything I’ve gotten more and more comfortable that we’re headed in the right direction.
“And actually, the selection of the name solidifies that feeling because of the values that the name represents.”
The team’s colors will remain the same, and the new Guardians logos will incorporate some of the architectural features of the bridge.
In 2018, the Indians stopped wearing the contentious Chief Wahoo logo on their jerseys and caps. However, the team continues to sell merchandise bearing the smiling, red-faced caricature that has drawn protests from Native American groups for decades.
Cleveland’s change comes as the Washington Football Team continues to work toward a similar makeover. Washington recently said it will reveal a new name and logo in 2022.
Ramen Lab Eatery, a ramen restaurant in Delray Beach, Florida, was the site of several instances of anti-Asian vitriol, perpetrated by three White men who intruded upon the outdoor tables of the restaurant while it was closing.
The men, who showed up and started unstacking chairs to sit and eat slices of pizza, began spewing profanity at a female employee after she asked them to leave so the restaurant could close.
You can see footage here:
The men grew increasingly irate after being approached by owner Louis Grayson, calling the female employee a “little bitch” and unprompted, saying to Grayson:
“Take your f*cking China flu, and shove it up your a**! A**hole, you f*cking Taiwanese ch*nk motherf**ker.”
Shortly after, Grayson called the police, which caused the men to run away.
Shortly after the incident, Grayson took the footage online.
“We have zero tolerance for violence,” Grayson wrote on the Ramen Lab Eatery’s Instagram page. “We are a honest hard working business. We stand against any type of racism, harassments and discrimination. We pride ourselves in having a multicultural environment.”
“Unfortunately, this situation was very heart breaking and will not break our spirits. We will not accept this type of behavior and attack on anyone and especially to our staff.”
It didn’t take Twitter sleuths long to identify at least one of the men.
One of the men was identified as Beningo Fronsaglia.
Twitter went digging for all the dirt.
Delray Beach police declined to investigate or press charges.
Sylvia Mendez knows a thing or two about breaking barriers. But, as she noted Wednesday, this may have been her first time cutting a ceremonial ribbon.
Not far from where she and her brothers were denied enrollment at a school because of their Mexican heritage, setting in motion a landmark desegregation case with national reverberations, the civil rights icon visited Westminster High School to help dedicate a brand new learning pavilion named in her honor.
“I am very aware how much work went into putting this together,” Mendez said. “Muchísimas gracias. I am so grateful, and so thank you. Thank you very much.”
On an outside wall, a towering mural created by artist Chuck Adame — with the help of fellow artists Israel “Ezra” Cervantes and Jose Joaquin — captures both the vision of the pavilion and the significance of Mendez v. Westminster.
The dignified profile of Sylvia Mendez occupies the top left corner of the mural, along with the year her case was resolved. Also depicted are her parents, Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez, the Presidential Medal of Freedom she was awarded in 2011, a blindfolded Lady Justice, books with the term “equality” written on their spines in multiple languages, and the Japanese kanji character for “harmony.” The latter symbolizes the family’s bond with members of the Munemitsu family who leased their farmland to the Mendezes after being ordered to an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II.
This story begins in 1943, also in Westminster. That’s where Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez tried to enroll Sylvia and her brothers, Geronimo and Gonzalo, at 17th Street School, known as “the white school.”
But district officials directed the family to Hoover Elementary, a campus for Mexican American children. Sylvia Mendez, just 8 years old at the time, would later describe Hoover as “a terrible little shack” with dirt for a playground.
Her parents hired a local attorney, who later consolidated the case with four other Orange County families who were willing to take legal action. Mendez, et al v. Westminster claimed that 5,000 children throughout the county were unjustly harmed by unconstitutional segregation policies.
The families won a groundbreaking victory in the U.S. District Court in 1946 that was upheld by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals the following year. On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Brown v. Board of Education decision, which asserted that all laws promoting school segregation were unconstitutional.
Gonzalo Mendez died in 1964, and Felicitas Mendez died in 1998. In accordance with her mother’s wishes, Sylvia Mendez has spent much of her post-retirement life speaking publicly about the case and talking to students about the importance of education.
She’s now 85, and there is little doubt that her efforts to raise awareness have been successful, expanding the case’s profile across the country.
The Santa Ana Unified School District opened Gonzalo Felicitas Mendez Fundamental Intermediate School in 2000. More recently, the Westminster School District rededicating its central office with a marquee that reads, “Westminster School District, In Honor of La Familia Mendez.” And last year, Felicitas Mendez became the subject of a Google Doodle.
“In Mendez v. Westminster there was no violence, I have to tell you,” she said. “People came together to right a wrong. It took my parents and the other families a lot of courage. This court case is all about the struggle for equal education and for basic human rights.”
Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson helped restore a Filipino food truck that was vandalized last week with racist slurs and derogatory images.
According to Austin Facer of ABC 4, Clarkson was one of a number of people who joined IdentityGraphx and helped restore the World Famous Yum Yum Food Truck, which serves Asian fusion and Filipino food in northern Utah, after the vandalism.
Layton, Utah, Mayor Joy Petro and city council members were also involved in the restoration, and the food truck revealed its new paint job before its reopening at the Philippine Independence Day celebration on Saturday in Salt Lake City.
The owners of the truck thanked those involved in a Facebook post:
“It has been an emotional few days. The love and support that we got from all of you has been deeply heartfelt. My family can’t thank you guys enough. Special thanks to Utah Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson and Dan from Identity graphics for the new look. We want to thank everyone individually in a couple weeks when we have our LOVE celebration in the park and feed the community. Thanks to Mayor Joy Petro, Councilman Clint Morris, Councilman Zach Bloxham, Dustin, everyone in the neighborhood and all of you angels. Love prevails. We are going to have our grand reopening this Saturday at the Philippine independence day celebration in slc.”
On Wednesday, Layton Police announced they are still looking for those responsible for the vandalism and offered a $500 reward for information that leads to their arrest.