Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Quote of the moment: Loretta Sanchez vs. "Los Vietnameses"

“Los Vietnameses y los Republicanos están con una intensidad de quitar este puesto, este puesto que ya nosotros hemos hecho tanto para nuestra comunidad, quitarnos este puesto y darselo a este Van Tran, que es muy anti-inmigrante y muy anti-Hispano.”

- Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez, 47th Congressional District, during an interview on Univision Sept. 12

Translation, from an excerpt in both languages of Sanchez' statement in the Orange County Register:

“The Vietnamese and the Republicans are, with an intensity, (trying) to take this seat – this seat (from which) we have done so much for our community – to take this seat and give it to this Van Tran, who is very anti-immigrant and very anti-Hispanic.”

Understandably, Orange County and beyond is abuzz with what has become the political gaffe of the moment. Sanchez's comment, circulated by political bloggers in recent days, is especially notable coming from a Latina whose landmark defeat of incumbent Rep. Bob Dornan in 1996, a Republican, symbolized the county's ethnic shift away from its past as a mostly white conservative stronghold.

Van Tran, a Republican California state assembly member (and a 1.5 generation Vietnamese immigrant) is her opponent on the November ballot for the district, which encompasses the cities of cities of Garden Grove and Santa Ana and takes in parts of Fullerton and Anaheim.

The California-born Sanchez made the statement in Spanish, which she speaks somewhat decently, during a interview with Univision anchor Jorge Ramos earlier this month:

Sanchez and her campaign have since tried to clarify the remark. In a post yesterday on the political blog The Liberal OC, she was quoted as saying: “During the interview, I was referencing those in the Vietnamese community who are supporting my opponent."

Still, the past few days have not been good ones for the Sanchez campaign. Given the history behind Sanchez' election to her seat 14 years ago, various bloggers and news outlets have not been able to resist the irony of the onetime underdog minority candidate, now the incumbent, making a comment that many perceive as blatant race-baiting, or at least as a foot planted squarely in the mouth.

Whatever was going on in Sanchez' mind at the time, the flap does provide an interesting peek into Orange County's ethno-political landscape.

While ethnic tension between Latino and Asian immigrant communities definitely exists, it generally doesn't reach nearly the level of tension that exists between the African-American community and both Asians and Latinos. For example, in a 2007 poll released by New American Media, a smaller percentage of Latinos than African-Americans answered "yes" to a question regarding whether they felt that Asian business owners treated them with respect.

But ethnic tension side, there is also a unique political component in Orange County, where the right-leaning Vietnamese electorate has been maturing alongside the more established and left-leaning Latino electorate. If Tran wins the district seat - held by Republicans until Sanchez's victory - it could signify a return to traditional Republican control, only not by the traditional white ruling class.

The us-versus-them tone of Sanchez's statement on Univision was likely born more of that than anything else, but still, it didn't sound good. It's a gaffe that could cost her dearly. Meanwhile, the Sanchez campaign is compensating with a new campaign ad that features a photo of Tran sleeping.