A Vietnamese American entrepreneur claimed he has been receiving threats from within the Vietnamese community in southwest Houston after he paid for a billboard that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop Racism” in English and Vietnamese.
Lê Hoàng Nguyên, an insurance company owner, revealed in a Facebook video on July 8 that there have been calls for his lynching and boycott of his business since he put up the billboard. He used his own money to commission the message, which was non-political, he said.
“There’s been public calls for my lynching, within my own Vietnamese community – community that I love, a community that I have proudly served and helped build and help inspire future generations of young leaders,” he said.
Nguyên expressed how these statements have emotionally affected him.
“You try to be strong but when your entire life, 50 years, that you worked so hard to build, to share, gets unfairly and unjustly judged, convicted and executed … in the court of public opinion, it hurts,” he noted.
He also played a clip of him voicing his official public statement about the matter via a local Vietnamese station.
According to Nguyên, he had three goals in putting up the billboard: To show his public support for stopping all racism and injustice, to inspire future generations of leaders, and to speak up and to start the hard conversations about racism and injustice.
“It is not a political message. It does not support any particular organization. It supports the simple idea of the Black Lives Matter movement to stop racism and injustice for all,” he said. “It does not mean other lives do not matter. I believe every life matters. But, if we do not stand up for the lives of those most marginalized, how can we say that all lives matter?”
His statement was met with messages of support online, including Vietnamese American author Nguyễn Thanh Việt.
“Thank you brother for your courage and bravery for taking a stance on justice and humanity! God Bless you and know that the Creator sees what you have done. Keep putting good Karma out in the universe,” one user wrote on Facebook.
“Why the message, “Black Lives Matter” and not “All Lives Matter”? Because White Lives are not in the same danger right now. We don’t complain when people raise awareness about breast cancer with “Fight breast cancer” and not “Fight all cancers,” commented another Facebook user.
However, some residents in the community expressed that the billboard he put up sent a wrong message.
Bang Nguyên, 60, told the Houston Chronicle in an interview that the billboard implies that the Vietnamese community has issues with the Black community.
“We are not against Blacks or any race here. Why is it that they decide to bring it here? It’s more of a political thing than anything else,” they said. “They give the Black community the wrong message that the Vietnamese community are racist or against Blacks, and that is not correct.”
Addressing the discrimination faced by the Vietnamese community, the entrepreneur pointed out the difference in the experiences of being a Vietnamese American than those of Black Americans.
“I did not grow up with people who ran when they saw me. I did not have to fear for my life anytime I saw the police. I was never told I am worthless by those with different skin colors,” Nguyên said. “I know that my life would have been a lot harder to build if I did. Who am I to judge the enduring challenges that others face?”
He spoke about how his family had escaped Vietnam after his father had been jailed for being a captain of the South Vietnamese Army from 1975 to 1980. When his family made it to a refugee camp in Malaysia, he said Black leaders had spoken up for them and others that had fled the country, citing a New York Times advertisement in 1978 titled “Black Americans urge admission of the Indochinese refugees.”
“Our continuing struggle for economic and political freedom is inextricably linked to the struggle of Indochinese refugees who also seek freedom,” the advertisement read. “If our government lacks compassion for these dispossessed human beings, it is difficult to believe that the same government can have much compassion for American’s black minority, or for America’s poor.”
“The battle against human misery is indivisible.”
I paid for a #BlackLivesMatter billboard to show my…
“They spoke up on our behalf when we had no voice,” he said. “Their compassion taught me how to be empathetic towards our fellow human beings.”
Nguyên is also planning to put up another billboard to honor first responders.
Feature Image via Farmers Insurance Le Hoang Nguyen