Members and allies of the Vietnamese-American community gathered in front of Neumos to protest a Canadian band called Viet Cong on the night of their scheduled Seattle performance Friday, October 16.
Viet Cong is comprised entirely of four white men and partakers of “Shut Down Viet Cong” movement are criticizing the band for being racist, soliciting trauma, and culturally appropriating the name of a Vietnamese communist militia.
The actual militia group Viet Cong was responsible for the deaths, torture, and displacement of thousands of Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War. According to some of the protesters, many of their relatives have been directly impacted by the Viet Cong.
“My grandfather fought in the war, because he really believed in a free society,” said protest organizer and activist Vy Nguyen. “He got put into reeducation camp for years where he was beaten and starved … my grandfather being taken away from his family, left my grandmother, a single mom with seven kids in a post-war world. That has broken my family and that fracture still lives on today. Both of my parents escaped Vietnam dangerously by boat before 1980 and to this day, 40 years later, they are still not able to tell me what it was like, growing up and living through a war … it brings up a lot of raw emotions.”
A crowd of close to 40 demonstrators first congregated in a courtyard in Seattle Central College, before marching to Neumos, a music and night club bar.
Picketers carried signs that read, “So long, Viet Cong,” and, “Shut down Viet Cong.”
As the day drew closer to night, one of the marchers brought in a gong and began calling cadence, drawing the attention of nearby restaurant goers and pedestrians. Passersby also received flyers explaining the purpose of the picketing.
“Shut Down Viet Cong,” as it is called on their Facebook event page, has drawn hundreds of people from different cultural and generational backgrounds. The diversity of “Shut Down Viet Cong” was reflected at Friday’s protest in Seattle. Vietnam War veterans were also present.
“I think it’s a trend in independent bands today to choose as edgy and controversial a name as possible. While in principle this is fine, if it ends up harming communities or making communities feel unsafe then that is not an appropriate action,” said 22-year-old Pavan Vangipuram, who identified as Indian-American. “Cultural appropriation harms all communities and it is important that the prevailing establishment understand that the pain and suffering that happened from other communities is not theirs to appropriate for their own monetary purposes.”
Several hours later after the demonstrators had arrived at Neumos, one of the band members, Mike Wallace, approached and engaged in conversation with the protestors.
During this 10-minute or so exchange, Wallace said that Viet Cong is in the process of changing their band name and that due to legal and licensing issues the transition is taking longer than expected.
Wallace said that the band was genuinely sorry, they do not want to fight, and they will be announcing themselves not as Viet Cong, but as the “Goofy Buddies.” He also said that despite being aware of the historical connotation behind Viet Cong, the name was still “interesting” to him.
“There is just a lot that was interesting about [Viet Cong] to me and you know a lot of people think that we’re making fun of your history and I understand it’s not my bloodline it’s not my family tree, but I feel like history is for everyone and it’s still a debate that is very relevant and very interesting,” said Wallace. “A lot of people, especially a lot of young people have approached me and told me that the name was really cool … they thought it shined a light on it.”
Community activist and leader Tony Vo said he was not satisfied with the response Wallace gave that night.
“I don’t think words equate to action and continuing to use that name regardless of him saying they don’t follow that name doesn’t make sense to me, because [they’re] still being promoted via social media; [their] Facebook name is still Viet Cong, and [they’re] still promoting it,” said Vo. “[Mike Wallace] didn’t even understand the situation and how serious this was and he just threw out that name ‘Goofy Buddies.’”
The “Shut Down Viet Cong” movement has been expanding. Viet Cong’s next performance is in Portland, Ore. at the Doug Fir Lounge on October 20. No official response has been released by the venue and the band still retains their controversial label.
So far, according to a new Facebook event page, 115 people plan on greeting Viet Cong.
Editor’s note (10/20/2015 at 9:02 a.m.): The site of the protest was incorrectly named. The story has been edited to correctly reflect that the protest took place at Seattle Central College. The IE regrets the error.