Over the past four years, the Cindy Chavez political machine has worked to defeat two sitting Vietnamese American city council representatives in San Jose. Today, there are no Vietnamese Americans, or any Asian Americans, serving on the San Jose City Council.
For a politician who claims to care about representation and diversity this is a shocking record. When she was working to replace an Asian American councilperson in District 4, one of the very hearts of the Asian American community, Cindy Chavez showed that, for her, inclusion and diversity comes second to political loyalty.
Sadly, Chavez’s record of working to silence Asian American voices is not in the past—it is still happening today and I have personal experience with that, having just received a threatening letter from her campaign lawyer trying to silence my ability to speak out.
At an interview recently, I told my story of escaping from communist Vietnam, where political dissent is punished. Speaking in Vietnamese, I said I thought Chavez was too “left leaning” for our community—which I think is true because of her record of wasting tax dollars on bonuses for bureaucrats and perks like valet parking for staff, while problems like crime, homelessness and mental health are getting worse.
I did not call her a communist. She is not a communist. She is showing with her threat of a baseless lawsuit that she is a bully in my opinion. I believe she certainly wastes taxpayer dollars by spending on perks and a million-dollar book about the county’s “accomplishments.” But she is not a communist.
But the tactics she uses would be familiar to any authoritarian leader—trying to bully people with the threat of lawsuits into silencing their voices. The letter her lawyer sent me threatened legal action if I speak the Vietnamese word communist or speak out about Chavez’s wasteful left leaning record.
The official cease and desist letter I received from Chavez’s campaign quotes two words I used when telling my personal story and explaining why I think she will be wrong for San Jose. I told my story of coming from a communist country where dissent is silenced and used the word “cộng sản,” which translates into English as “communist.” I did not call her a communist—I was telling my personal truth. I also used the Vietnamese word “thiên tả,” which translates as left leaning.
In response, Chavez sent me a letter from her attorney stating in a threatening manner:
“If you continue repeating your defamatory statements by using the words, ‘thiên tả” or “cộng sản,’ or similar words in relation to our client, we shall explore all legal options to ensure that your reckless and unlawful conduct ceases, and that you are held accountable for your actions.”
The fact that she doesn’t bother to accurately translate our language before she uses a lawyer to threaten me with legal action should be remembered by our community—and every community and any person who supports the idea of free speech. Authorities like the BBC News have confirmed “thiên tả” means left leaning, not communist.
I believe any legal action she takes against me could actually violate California law, which has strong protections for political speech and strong punishments for those who use the courts to silence constitutionally-protected speech via California’s anti “SLAPP” law—strategic lawsuits against public participation.
I am consulting with attorneys about how I can protect my right to free speech against the Chavez threats. But I hope voters remember her record of working against diverse representation and using the threat of lawsuits to silence dissent before they cast their ballots in the month ahead.
Bryan Do is a trustee for the East Side Union High School District in San Jose and a supporter of mayoral candidate and San Jose Councilmember Matt Mahan.
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