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  Vietnamese American is a political pace-setter
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Last EditedUser 13  Mar 15, 2004 10:39am
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MediaNewspaper - Sacramento Bee
News DateMonday, March 15, 2004 06:00:00 AM UTC0:0
DescriptionVan Tran couldn't cross the street to his office without a woman stopping to thank him for helping her son. A man shouted his congratulations from his car window.

Shopkeepers also nodded in greeting as Tran wandered through a mall last week in Little Saigon, the largest Vietnamese settlement outside Vietnam.

These are heady times for the 39-year-old Republican who knew only two words of English when his family fled the communist takeover of South Vietnam in 1975 with just two suitcases.

Already a respected lawyer and Garden Grove city councilman, Tran is on the verge of becoming the nation's first Vietnamese American legislator and its highest-ranking Vietnamese American elected official.

He won the Republican nomination to replace term-limited Assemblyman Ken Maddox on March 2, and he's expected to win the Orange County seat in November because the GOP has a 12-point registration advantage in the district.

"Boy, what a ride we have had," Tran said, grinning. "It is a great American success story - not just for our family but for so many immigrant families."

In Little Saigon, a community of more than 100,000 Vietnamese Americans, Tran is a trailblazer and a symbol of the personal and political transformation of its residents.

"This is the culmination of nearly 30 years of the refugee experience," said Christian Collet, an Irvine-based pollster and researcher of the Vietnamese American community. "Anyone who's followed the evolution of Little Saigon will be absolutely amazed at the rapid political progress that's been made in such a short time."

He dates Little Saigon's formation to 1977, when Vietnamese Americans started moving into an apartment complex near a Garden Grove refugee center.

Its business district grew from a handful of shops to a profusion of storefronts in the cities of Westminster and Garden Grove.

An estimated 2 million Vietnamese fled their homeland after South Vietnam's collapse, and about half of them settled in t
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