Immigrant community leaders demand Derek Tran apologize for offensive comments: Letter

June 6, 2024

Nearly 50 local Asian American, immigrant and community leaders and organizations in California’s 45th district demanded extreme Democrat Derek Tran apologize for his recent offensive comments or drop out of the race.

“Disparaging Congresswoman Steel’s background while chastising her for coming to America to realize the American Dream is an affront to all First Generations who have come here in search of a better life,” the leaders wrote.

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In a closely watched congressional race in Southern California, tensions are growing between two candidates as they battle for the Asian American vote in a district President Joe Biden won by six points in 2020.

Nearly four dozen Asian American community leaders and organizations in California’s 45th District, which is represented by Republican Rep. Michelle Steel, have signed a letter requesting that her Democratic opponent, Derek Tran, apologize for comments he made to Punchbowl News about Steel or “get out of the race.”

Of the 45 people who signed the letter, 41 have endorsed Steel. A copy of the letter, which was written on Steel’s letterhead, was obtained by Spectrum News.

In the interview, Tran, the son of Vietnamese political refugees, suggested Steel’s background story as an immigrant would fail to resonate with voters because it’s not the same experience as many of her constituents.

“​​Michelle still tries to run on that she’s a refugee or she tried to flee communism. No, that’s not true at all,” Tran said in the interview. “She came to this country for economic gain. That’s not the same as losing one’s country after the fall of Saigon in ‘75 and having no home.”

But the letter argues that “starting a new life and working to attain a better economic state is the American Dream that so many of us or our parents have done. It’s why we are here, and why we love representing the diverse groups in our communities.” 

Tran “of all people should know and have respect for that,” they wrote.

“Spewing misleading information about Michelle’s family is no way to run for office. Her family fled Communist North Korea, moving to Seoul. From there they moved to Japan and later, after her father died, she came to America,” continues the letter. “Most disturbing, we are beyond disappointed that you insinuate that coming to America for ‘economic gain’ is somehow bad or wrong. This is especially offensive to the thousands of immigrants that live in CA-45 and across the country who share the same story as Michelle.”

“You owe her and the thousands of immigrants here an apology. Do what’s right and run a better campaign or get out of the race.”

Steel’s team charges it’s the latest in a string of xenophobic attacks by Tran.

“Rather than lifting and celebrating first generations who work hard for their American Dream, Derek Tran is now attacking them. It should be lost on no one that this is the same Derek Tran who interviewed with a man that said Michelle Steel was ‘unintelligible’ and who gladly accepts the endorsement of Jay Chen who mocked Steel’s accent,” said Lance Trover, a spokesperson for Steel’s campaign.

California’s 45th district in the heart of Orange County is home to Little Saigon, the largest population of Vietnamese descendants outside of Vietnam itself. When the district elected Steel in 2020, she was one of the first three Korean American women to be elected to Congress. 

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