By Leonard Novarro
Right before he stepped on his flight to Washington to attend the Inauguration, De Le of San Diego paused in the middle of a sentence, removed his plain black baseball cap and replaced it with a bright blue one emblazoned with “Trump 2016.”
Le, 36 was about to embark, in his own view, on the most important trip of his life, standing in one of the front rows, watching the country’s 45th president being sworn in Friday at noon. The feeling evoked was like watching a Frank Capra remake of “Mister Smith Goes to Washington,” starring Jimmy Stewart. But this day, De Le was the star as he chatted up his visit aboard a Delta flight to the East Coast, posing with stewardesses and others who had already seen him being interviewed on television.
Le was awarded tickets from both Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter and Democratic Rep. Scott Peters for the community work he has done in San Diego. Actually, he had planned this trip more than a year, since Donald Trump announced his run for the presidency and surprised a nation by winning. For Le, it was no surprise.
“I started supporting Donald Trump two weeks into the primary,” said Le. “It was in the middle of the campaign and I went to his website and followed his message. I heard some of the speeches and said, ‘This guy really knows what he is talking about — America for Americans. That’s how it should be.’ I was not even born here. I’m not even white. Yet I fell in love with this country and I’ve been serving it since I was 12 years old.”
Le was brought to San Diego by his father, Tuanh Le, an Army officer, who had been imprisoned by the communists after the fall of Saigon. When he was finally released and able to come to the U.S., he sent for Le, then 12. The son then followed in the footsteps of his father and joined the Army when he was 19, serving for 12 years, after which he engaged in various forms of community service and ran for San Diego City Council in 2014.
Never give up — it was a message his father gave him and a trait he sees in Trump.
“I fell in love with his message and did everything I could to get him elected,” said Le.
That included attending over ten rallies, most in the Southwest and up and down California, speaking out about trade policies supported by government officials and wielding anti-immigration signs at the border with Mexico, which at times created some minor confrontations. Yet, said Le, “I met Many Mexicans who were for Trump.” And on trade, he said, “Even Chinese American friends are telling me how Chinese are coming here, buying homes up and down the coast, inflating their value and reselling them with the same cash they got from American companies investing in China overseas. These companies are traitors and they are killing this country.”
His outspoken views and his sign wielding at the border led to widespread coverage by the San Diego Union-Tribune, Washington Post and New York Times. And he has been interviewed on CNN, ABC and the Fox affiliate in San Diego. On Thursday, while driving to the Capitol to pick up his tickets, he was interviewed by a Philadelphia radio show and four hours later by KUSI-TV in San Diego.
Le spent most of the day before the Inauguration visiting offices of the San Diego congressional delegation and newly elected Rep. Stephanie Murphy from Orlando, who is also of Vietnamese descent. She is a Democrat who did not back Trump but she is attending the inauguration. For those Democrats who aren’t, Le said, “If Hillary won, I would have supported her just the same because she is my president. This is a democratic process and a new president comes to office every four to eight years and represents the entire country. If you have grief, wait your turn.”
Then, pausing for a couple of seconds, he added rhetorically: “How can someone from outside the U.S. have such love, compared to Americans born here and protesting against the U.S.?” In his own words: “I would give my life for America in a heartbeat if I had to.”
Leonard Novarro is co-founder of Asia Media America and the Asian Heritage Society.