Why some conservative Vietnamese Americans are angry about L.A. County’s new ‘Jane Fonda Day’

A group of Republican lawmakers in California, including a number of Vietnamese Americans, have come together in opposition to Los Angeles County’s newest day of recognition: Jane Fonda Day. 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors introduced the day last month to honor Fonda, 86, and her contributions to entertainment, climate justice and gender equality throughout her career. They scheduled it to be celebrated each year on April 30.

For many conservative Vietnamese American leaders, the date presented a major issue. April 30 is also known to many in the Vietnamese diaspora as “Black April,” or the day the North Vietnamese captured the South Vietnamese stronghold of Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City, on April 30, 1975, effectively ending the war.

“As State Senator of the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam, I find this decision alarming and profoundly disrespectful to over half a million Vietnamese-Americans in California,” Republican state Sen. Janet Nguyen wrote in a letter to the Board of Supervisors on May 1. “This directly undermines the memory and sacrifice of the 58,220 US soldiers and 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers who died in defense of freedom and democracy during the Vietnam War.”

In the 1970s, Fonda was an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War and the U.S. government’s involvement. She also visited North Vietnam in 1972 and was photographed sitting on an anti-aircraft gun, which caused her to be lambasted in the U.S. as anti-American and pro-communist. She later apologized to American Vietnam veterans and their families, saying the photographs were “a thoughtless and careless thing to have done.” 

The Vietnam War caused deep divisions in the U.S., spurring a massive counterculture movement that sought to end the violence. Many who called for an end to the war and American involvement, like Fonda, were seen as unpatriotic.

Nguyen refers to Fonda in the letter as “Hanoi Jane,” a nickname she was given after her trip to the city in Vietnam, and calls her a “propagandist who supported a Communist agenda in Vietnam.”

Jane Fonda, holding a camera, in Vietnam.
Fonda was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and visited North Vietnam in 1972. AFP via Getty Images

“By honoring a pro-communist activist on the anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, the Board shows contempt for the deeply painful experience of Vietnamese refugees,” said Nguyen, whose district encompasses Orange County’s Little Saigon, home to a large Vietnamese population.

The Board of Supervisors did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An updated note on its original “Jane Fonda Day” news release says it is considering moving the day to sometime earlier in April. A spokesperson for Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, a Democrat, told the California news organization Cal Matters that having the day coincide with the anniversary was unintentional. 

“Out of respect for the community voices who have spoken up, we will introduce a motion at our next regular meeting of the Board to make Jane Fonda Day April 8 as part of Earth Month,” says the note, which was added last week. 

Vietnamese Americans are the only Asian American group of whom the majority lean Republican, according to the Pew Research Center. Fifty-one percent identify more strongly with the GOP, compared with just 34% of all Asian Americans.

Republican State Assemblymember Tri Ta also wrote a letter asking the Board of Supervisors to rescind Jane Fonda Day. It was co-signed by 18 legislators. 

“We cannot fathom why the Board of Supervisors would choose this particular day to celebrate Jane Fonda,” Ta wrote. “The pain and hurt caused by this decision will surely cause long-term damage to the Vietnamese refugee community.”

Fonda’s team did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a quote in the original news release, she said she was honored and encouraged people to vote for climate-friendly politicians. 

“My message today is — when you go into the ballot box have climate in your heart,” she said. “Most Americans are very concerned about what is happening, but they don’t necessarily bring it into the voting booth with them. This is an existential year. How we vote all the way down ballot is going to matter for whether young people have a livable future.”

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