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California City Bans Display of Vietnam National Flag on City Poles

A Northern California city has become the first in the San Francisco Bay Area to ban the flag of the communist Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

The San Jose City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to ban the flag — a yellow star on a red background — from being displayed on city flagpoles, following in the footsteps of the Southern California city of Westminster, which adopted a similar resolution to ban the flag in December last year.

San Jose City Councilman Tam Nguyen, who fled Vietnam when he was 19 and who had witnessed some of the horrors of the Vietnam War, said he introduced the resolution because he felt the city shouldn't spend money and resources to fly the flag. He called it a "symbol of tyranny, oppression, and dictatorship."

San Jose City Councilman Tam Nguyen
San Jose City Councilman Tam Nguyen introduced a resolution to ban the display of Vietnam's national flag on city flagpoles. The resolution was unanimously approved Tuesday, January 24, 2017. Courtesy of Tam Nguyen

"The [Vietnamese] community in San Jose escaped that flag and we just want to live in peace without being reminded of the painful past," he told NBC News in an email.

Tuesday's resolution was a controversial one, drawing dozens of speakers during the resolution's public commenting period.

Many said seeing the flag is a source of pain and that it represents bloodshed.

One resident during the city council meeting said that her father tried to escape Vietnam by boat and never saw his family again, while another said that under the communist regime, her husband was put in prison where he died.

Image: VIETNAM-LIFESTYLE-TET-FLAG
This picture taken on January 6, 2017 shows packages of Vietnamese flags ready to be delivered ahead of the Lunar New Year at flag-maker Nguyen Van Phuc's workshop on the outskirts of Hanoi. Hoang Dinh Nam / AFP - Getty Images

A few opponents of the resolution argued that a ban goes against American ideals.

"We believe this sets a bad precedent," said San Jose resident Long Le. "Will you ban the flag of Mexico next? The flag of Cuba, China, Russia, or any Middle Eastern flags afterwards? We do not support the communist flag but we want to keep San Jose a free and open city for everyone."

Opposition also came from the Libertarian Party of Santa Clara County.

"The real question tonight: Is this resolution American?" Chris Le, membership chair of the Libertarian Party of Santa Clara, said during the meeting. "Does it represent our [values] of a free and open country that welcomes everyone?"

Throughout the meeting, people in attendance waved handheld flags of the Republic of Vietnam, or "South Vietnam," which is yellow with three horizontal stripes in the center. That flag had previously been recognized by San Jose as the official flag for the city's Vietnamese-American community.

While the capital of the Republic of Vietnam fell in April 1975, more than 80 cities across the United States have recognized its flag as the Vietnamese Freedom and Heritage flag.

San Jose is home to more than 100,000 Vietnamese, according to U.S. Census estimates, making it the city with the largest population of Vietnamese in the United States.

As a result of the resolutions adopted by San Jose and Westminster, other cities are also looking to do the same, including the Northern California city of Milpitas, according to Nguyen.

Before Westminster unanimously approved its resolution in December, the mayor pro tem of the Southern California city of Garden Grove, Phat Bui, said his city would follow the example of Westminster, according to Vietnamese-American newspaper Nguoi Viet.

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