Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Mr. Cao Goes to Washington

Yesterday Joseph Cao was sworn-in as the first Vietnamese-American member of Congress.

When I was home over break, my grandma mentioned how proud she was of him, and my parents watched with excitement as the nightly news did a story him yesterday (even if my mom was upset they were pronouncing his name wrong). And as white-washed as you can call me, I felt it too, the Vietnamese pride. It's the kind of feeling you get when you see an American winning in the Olympics. Except instead of cheering for Michael Phelps, you're cheering for a 5'2" lawyer and community organizer.

As the news story about Cao showed images of refugees leaving Saigon, I remembered something though. The West Wing television show saw this story coming. In the second part of 20 Hours in America (Season 4, Episode 2), President Bartlet meets Congressman Peter Lien. They never said he was Vietnamese, and I don't even think he was played by a Vietnamese actor, but the references to leaving in 1974 and having a big symbolic responsibility were all I needed to figure it out.

Such a good ending to a good episode:

CHARLIE: Congressman Lien.

President BARTLET: Could somebody get Leo for me, please? Peter, you hear that? He called you "congressman."

Congressman Peter LIEN: Yes, sir.

BARTLET: You think when your folks got you out in '74, they imagined they were taking you to a place that'd be willing to make you a Congressman?

LIEN: As a matter of fact, sir, I think that's exactly what they imagined.


LEO: Good afternoon, Mr. President.

BARTLET: Leo, meet Congressman Peter Lien, Texas 22nd. Peter, this is Leo McGarry, U.S. Air Force, 144th Fighter Wing.

LEO: Pleased to meet you, Congressman.

BARTLET: Peter's family fishes in Galveston Bay ... Peter's 34 years old.

LEO: I'm sorry it's been two months and we haven't been able to get you up here until now.

LIEN: No, please. It's a bust time. If there's any help I can give you in Texas...

BARTLET: Ordinarily I would tell you that Jim Coor was a good public servant, and you've got big shoes to fill, and he was and you do, but obviously you have a bigger symbolic responsibility then that.

LIEN: Yes, sir.

BARTLET: But you biggest responsibiltity isn't symbolic, right?

LIEN: Yes, sir.

BARTLET: What is it?

LIEN: It's my district, my country, and the Congress of the United States.

BARTLET: Welcome, my friend, to the show that never ends.

LIEN: Thank you, Mr. President.

BARTLET: Isn't that a hell of a thing? What's next?

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