On Affirmative Action

I was hoping that I would not have to write this letter. For the last three months, I spent so much time and effort on the No!200 campaign to try and defeat initiative 200. All along, I had a feeling we might lose, but I didn’t expect we would lose by such a wide margin. I must admit I am surprised and discouraged by the large percentage of voters in Washington State who voted against affirmative action program for women and minorities.

But we must continue the struggle for equality. It has been over thirty years, but Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream is still but a dream. We all hope for a color-blind society, but that hope is not based on reality. The evidence is conclusive in that as a society, we still judge people by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.

As citizens in a democracy, each one of us has a duty and obligation to demand for a just society. Therefore, we must identify the areas of injustice, then stand up and speak out against it. If we don’t take a stand against an injustice, then we are accomplices to that act of injustice. I understand that one can become overly emotional when confronted by an act of injustice, such as the systematic discrimination against the people of color in this society. I had to examine myself objectively to see whether I have a chip on my shoulder, as a friend of mine bluntly put it. Well, perhaps my friend is correct. I wish more people had a chip on their shoulder and protested when Nazi Germany exterminated over two million Jews. I wish more people had a chip on their shoulder and protested when the United States of America forcefully put all Americans of Japanese decent, but not Americans of German decent, in concentration camps.

Proponents of anti-affirmative action would like us to believe that the United States is now a color blind society. However, Amnesty International, a human rights organization which monitors human rights violation world wide, condemns the United States for human rights violations against people of color in selective policing, police brutality, imprisonment, and the death penalty. For instance, in April 1998, in New Jersey, two state troopers stopped a vehicle with 3 blacks and 1 Latino occupants on their way to a university basketball game. The car accidentally rolled backward, causing an officer to fall. The troopers opened fire and seriously wounded three occupants. In the McCleskey case in 1987, the Supreme Court of the United States conceded that race is a factor in who will receive the death penalty, when the court was confronted with a statistical study which points out that blacks are four times more likely to receive the death penalty than whites. In fact, since 1977, 82 percent of blacks received the death penalty when the victims are white, even though homicide victims are about equal between black and white in the United States. Blacks are 12 percent of the population, but 42 percent of the prisoners on death row. By accepting institutionalized racism, the Supreme Court at the present time is no different than the Supreme Court in 1856 when it ruled in Scott V. Sandford that blacks were not people but property. McCleskey was executed in 1991.

We must continue the struggle for equality. Organizations and individuals that opposed initiative 200 must work together and coordinate their effort to combat racism. The fight must go on. It is time to stop dreaming. Now is the time to make Dr. King’s dream a reality.

Tuan Tran

On Voting

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Thomas Jefferson

These are the words of the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, thus establishing the foundation of a democracy for the United States of America. Since then, countless individuals from all corners of the world have emigrated to the United States of America seeking Life, Liberty, and Happiness.

These individuals made great personal sacrifices for their freedom. Among these groups of emigrants, none has endured as much suffering or made as many personal sacrifices as the Vietnamese who came to the United States, since the fall of South Vietnam on April 30th 1975.

As the 25th anniversary is approaching, let us reflect on our experiences of the last twenty five years within the context of the Civil Rights struggle by people of color in this country, and let us be resolute in our determination to achieve full equality as Vietnamese-Americans.

Although the Declaration of Independence insures that all men are treated as “equal” in 1776, it wasn’t until 1870 that Amendment XV allowing people of color the right to vote was amended. It wasn’t until 1920 that Amendment XIX allowing women the right to vote was amended. However, people of color were not able to exercise their rights to vote until around 1960 when the Civil Rights Movement, led by Rev. Martin Luther King, demanded equal treatment for people of color.

The right to vote is the most fundamental and cherished right of all citizens in a democracy. This is where we must begin our efforts to achieve equality as Vietnamese-Americans. Rather than living in isolation and poverty, we as Vietnamese-Americans must exercise our rights to vote in order to achieve full equality and integration. In the process, we can help America to put the Vietnam War in the past, and move toward a new millennium of peace and friendship.

Tuan Tran

On Civil Disobedience

The twentieth century was a century of great turmoil: of colonialism, wars, poverty, and famine. But during this time, the world also saw how love can transform the hearts of men. What does love have to do with Civil Disobedience? To answer this question, we need to reflect on the principle of “ahimsa,” or non-violence, as exemplified by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Both Gandhi and King were men of religious conviction. By religious, I don’t mean a person who follows a certain religion: such as a Christian, a Muslim, or a Buddhist. But an individual who believes that only the truth is unchanging, and the manifestation of this truth is the absolute love for all living beings. For love is the absence of violence in both thought and action.

A non-violent act of Civil Disobedience is the most noble form of protest. For its aim is not merely to gain material benefits for an oppressed group, but to transform the heart of the people in a society. Without this love, then it is just a vicious circle. The victim will become the perpetrator, and the cycle will start all over again.

Thus an effective protest is not necessarily the most vocal such as shouting down someone else, nor is it vindictive. Perhaps an example from the movie Gandhi will illustrate this point.

During Gandhi’s fast to the death as an act of self-sacrifice in order to stop the war between the Hindus and the Muslims. A Hindu man told Gandhi he wants to take revenge for the death of his son, who was killed by a mob of Muslims. Gandhi’s reply was: go find an orphan Muslim boy about the age of your son, whose parents were killed by the Hindus, and raise that boy as though he is your own son.

Tuan Tran

My Poetry

On Wisdom

may i have the strength to strive effortlessly
and the wisdom to accept the things i cannot change
may i have the courage to observe the impermanence of all things
and the wisdom to accept my own suffering

On Seeking

let me seek silence in all these meaningless chattering
let me seek stillness in this hectic and hurried world
let me seek the light of wisdom to dispel the depth of my ignorance
let me seek love instead of anger
joy instead of despair
understanding instead of hatred
let me seek nothing at all
but the acceptance of this moment


bamboo branches swaying in the gentle breeze
water buffaloes reflecting in the moon light
bombs falling like raindrops

On Ego

my own ego
big as a mountain
chip at it
a little
each day


seeking for you
half way around the world
where are you
but in my heart

On Love

i have no fear
when you are there
to hold my hand


ten years
seem as yesterday
for i have not letting go

On Letting Go

destiny brought us together
for i needed to learn
how to let go

On Loneliness

desert moon
shone brightly
a lone wanderer

On Desire

in a pond of lotus flowers
be still

On Desire

the eyes are windows to the soul
looking into your eyes
i see a reflection of my own desire

On Desire

half bloom
sweet nectar

On Faith

dark clouds
songbirds still sing

On Death

spider web
collecting morning dew
a graveyard of mosquitoes

In the moment

autumn breeze
falling leaves
why think of summer

On Patience

every caterpillar
in its own time


in my darkest hour
i cried out for you
i love you, mom

Miss Saigon

how strange,
spitting fire


one boat
this vast ocean


i saw
an earthworm
next to my feet
i picked it up
and placed it
in a flowerpot
so i wouldn’t step on it
then i saw
i placed it
in the same flowerpot
so the other
won’t be lonely

For No One

like a sailboat
in a vast blue sea
without a compass
or a star
to point the way
then you appear
bright as the northern star
radiant and lovely
with that far-away look
in your eyes
and lips so moist
as the morning dew
and suddenly
i am no longer lost
as i steer
by the light
of the northern star

Temple Bell

temple bell ringing
i think
of my friend

Tuan Tran