Image for Five Vietnamese Americans Headed to Oregon House
A portrait of integration, five Vietnamese Americans appear headed to the Oregon House in the 2023 legislative session. They are all Democrats and second-generation sons and daughters of refugees, but they aren’t part of a movement, haven’t coordinated their campaigns and reflect a range of policy perspectives. They include small business owners, medical professionals, school board members and a National Guard lieutenant colonel. (Photo Credit: Tim Saputo)

Their Ascension to Elected Office Is a Portrait of Integration

In a portrait of immigrant integration, five second-generation Vietnamese Americans are likely headed to the Oregon House in the 2023 session. As reported by Willamette Week, they all are Democrats running in solidly blue districts, but they aren’t part of a movement, haven’t coordinated their campaigns and don’t have a monolithic policy viewpoint.

Through their various walks of life, all five all learned the importance of political power and how to access it. Theirs is an all-American story. “It has to do with the second generation really coming of age,” says Rep. Khanh Pham, who is running for re-election and described by WW as the role model for her four future House colleagues. “I think that is an interesting story about what happens to immigrant communities as they start to become more assimilated into social and political systems. We’re learning about how to build political power.”

This is an all-American story about what happens to immigrant communities as they start to become more assimilated into social and political systems.

Pham was elected in 2020 to represent a House district stretching from Laurelhurst in NE Portland to the Jade District in SE Portland. She is the first Vietnamese American to serve in the Oregon legislature and is the body’s only current lawmaker of Asian descent. She is a skeptic of highway expansion, a champion for climate action and the force behind a $2 million statewide hotline as part of the Stop Asian Hate effort.

Willamette Week profiled the five sons and daughters of refugees – Rep. Khanh Pham of Portland (seeking re-election), Daniel Nguyen of Lake Oswego, Hai Pham of Hillsboro, Hoa Nguyen and Thuy Tran of Portland – with an eye to the diversity of their backgrounds:

  • Daniel Nguyen, 43, operates successful Vietnamese restaurants in Portland and Seattle and has served on the Lake Oswego City Council since 2018. He was born in Camas. He won the Democratic primary by 28 votes in a race left up in the air for weeks by a ballot snafu in the Clackamas County portion of the House District he is running to represent.
  • Thuy Tran, 55, founded Rose City Vision Care, is a lieutenant colonel and chief of optometry for the 42ndDivision of the US Air National Guard and formerly served on the Parkrose School Board. She was born in Tây Ninh, Vietnam.
  • Hoa Nguyen (no relation to Daniel), 38, is a school attendance coach for Portland Public Schools and serves on the David Douglas School Board. She was born in Versailles, Louisiana and moved to Oregon by herself as a teenager to attend St. Mary’s Academy. She grew up helping her parents who ran a neighborhood food mart.
  • Hai Pham (no relation to Khanh) is a pediatric dentist with his own practice in Hillsboro. He is a leukemia survivor, which led him to volunteer as a patient advocate at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. He has never held elective office. Pham was born in a Malaysian refugee camp and his family emigrated to Corvallis as refugees. He recalls playing with a stethoscope in a doctor’s office while his parents were cleaning it.

The WW story also contained this historical perspective:

“For decades, Vietnamese Americans were a reliable Republican voting bloc. Refugees loathed the communism that overran Vietnam, so they voted GOP in America – a phenomenon parallel to the better-known party allegiances of Cuban Americans in Miami.

“But that’s changing. New data from California journalism nonprofit CalMatters shows second-generation Vietnamese Americans are rapidly defecting to the Democratic Party. “There’s obviously a very important schism between the Republican older generation and the more liberal younger generations,” Crummé says.

“Adds Daniel Nguyen: ‘We always defer to our elders. But I think you’ll start to see more and more courage to say something that may not exactly line up with what our parents might have said.’”