On Monday, the White House Office of Public Engagement organized a briefing for 165 Vietnamese Americans from 30 different states who work across diaspora communities in order to promote human rights, global partnerships, and opportunities for Vietnamese abroad.
This briefing celebrated the unity and diversity of the Vietnamese American community. Briefing participants expressed the desire to elevate the “everyday” Vietnamese American, the nail salon worker, the bus driver, the post office worker, the fisherman, or the thousands of individuals who work hard day after day, but continue to pay close attention to the affairs of their homeland, Vietnam. These are the communities that our President is fighting for through his work on healthcare reform, creating jobs, and strengthening the economy during this make or break moment for the middle class.
Quintan Wiktorowicz, Senior Director for Community Partnerships at the National Security Staff, in his remarks, emphasized how fortunate we are as a country to have communities that can organize and mobilize around important issues to make a difference, and how this is an American trait. He noted that when he talks to foreign audiences they are amazed at the empowerment of our diaspora communities and their fundamental “can do” attitude towards solving problems. This is part of the American experience going back hundreds of years. It is the uniqueness of American civil society.
Dr. Wiktorowicz also described three levels of relationships with communities: trust building; engagement (listening and exchanging ideas); and partnership. The briefing for the Vietnamese American community demonstrated the Administration’s commitment to partnership with the community, which involves rolling up our sleeves and working together to solve tough problems. Dr. Wiktorowicz eloquently connected the struggle for rights abroad to the American experience for every audience member, who can take those ideas back to their own communities.
Participants were also briefed by a panel of State Department speakers addressing the issue of human rights in Vietnam. This panel's distinguished speakers included Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Michael Posner, Director of Global Partnerships, Thomas Debass, and Acting Director for Mainland Southeast Asia in the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs, Eric Barboriak.
Assistant Secretary Posner noted that human rights issues are a key component of ongoing discussions with Vietnam. Our State Department panelists stressed that the United States continuously engages Vietnam on human rights through many different channels, including the annual U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue.
This dialogue was an important first step in strengthening the government’s diaspora engagement efforts. America hosts the largest population of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam. According to the 2010 Census, there are over 1.55 million Vietnamese residing here in the United States; this is a 38% increase in numbers since 2000.
This is a growing community that has made important contributions to America’s economy, arts, culture, and society. Moving forward, these conversations add tremendous value to the federal government’s efforts to augment human rights, health, education, and improving the quality of lives of Vietnamese communities here and abroad.
Tuyet G. Duong serves as Advisor on Civil Rights and Immigration for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.