Last Friday a crowd estimated at 15,000 gathered around Tran's store, Hi Tek, an electronics-cum-video-rental outlet in a cramped minimall in Little Saigon--the unofficial name of Westminster, which lies about an hour south of Los Angeles. The demonstrators unfurled signs declaring, our wounds will never heal! be aware! communists are invading America. They are not angry about some controversial video (the rental shelves carry nothing questionable; the most popular tape, Tran says, is a martial-arts epic in which a student of Buddha's sends a monkey angel from heaven to fight evil on earth). Rather, the demonstrators started milling around Tran's store in January after he defiantly displayed a flag of the communist government of Vietnam and a poster of the regime's founder, Viet Cong leader Ho Chi Minh. That explains the effigies of Ho displayed above the shop; the gigantic flag of defunct South Vietnam hiding the storefront (and the offending poster); and the sign that reads, Ho Chi Minh is a second Hitler.
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We respect his freedom of speech, but he abuses that freedom, says a protest leader and immigration consultant Ky Ngo. Exercising your First Amendment rights is one thing; causing dissension in your community is another, says Vietnam vet Larkin Kennedy, whose forearm is tattooed with the image of a Vietnamese lady he left behind. I used to rent videos here, and I regret it deeply, says Linda Nguyen, a student at the University of California at Long Beach. She sniffs: His videos were copies and so blurry.
At home, Tran insists he displayed the flag because it's his country's current symbol. Ho, he says, was a hero who helped liberate his people. And America is a liberated country, with real freedoms. I wanted to show the Vietnamese community that freedom means accepting an opposite opinion. He doesn't quite disavow a quest for fame. Wanting to be famous is just human nature, he says. But that's not the main point for my actions. Then he asks, When is my story running?