McCain eventually apologized for his use of the term, saying he “always held the people of Vietnam in the highest regard,” according to press reports from the time.
Tran added he felt the issue was being revived by McCain’s opponents, after several key primary victories put him on an apparent trajectory to the party nomination.
“It’s no surprise that now that Sen. McCain is the national front runner for president, his opponents are coming out of the woodwork to attack him,” he said.
“The term has a very clear meaning — it specifically refers to the Vietnamese communists and no one else.”
But Linda Trinh Vo, an associate professor of Asian American Studies at UCI specializing in Vietnamese issues, said the word long predates Ho Chi Minh.
“I’m not a historian, but I do know the term was used against Filipinos at the turn of the century,” she said, adding the term had an imperialist connotation. “It’s now certainly used as a racial epithet against Asians.”
Vo added the term touches upon a sensitive generational issue in the Vietnamese community.
“I think the younger people who are educated and went to college understood it was a racial epithet, whereas the older generations may not realize that,” she said.
“Unfortunately, it’s now a term school kids use to make fun of Asian-Americans, or taunt them as they beat them up.”
Both Tran and a McCain spokeswoman nevertheless insisted the senator could comfortably stand on his long record of support from the American-Vietnamese community.
“The senator was in Little Saigon back in 2000, and 3,000 Vietnamese fans of the senator came to be with him and to greet him,” spokeswoman Jill Buck said. “He’s one of the most humane, compassionate national leaders that we have, and I think his record speaks for itself.”
“Sen. McCain sacrificed, paid with his blood and six years worth of his youth fighting for freedom and democracy for the Vietnamese people,” Tran said. “To me, that speaks volumes about his courage and his dedication.”
CHRIS CAESAR may be reached at (714) 966-4626 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.