Recognizing the Second Monday of October as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day”

Recognizing that the City of Ithaca rests upon Haudenosaunee land, this ordinance removes all references of Columbus Day from city code and instead recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ Day. I worked with Cayuga Nation leaders, the city’s Director of Human Resources, and the city attorney to write this legislation.

Status: Passed September 6, 2017

An Ordinance to Recognize the Second Monday of October as “Indigenous
Peoples’ Day” and to Amend the City Code to Reflect That Change

WHEREAS the City of Ithaca (the “City”) recognizes that the Indigenous Peoples of the lands now known as the Americas have occupied these lands since time immemorial; and

WHEREAS the City recognizes that Ithaca is built upon the homelands, villages, and burial grounds of the Indigenous peoples of the Cayuga Nation and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy; and

WHEREAS, the City acknowledges that on November 11, 1794, the (New York) Cayuga Nation along with the other Haudenosaunee Nations signed the Treaty of Canandaigua with the United States, by which they ceded much of their lands to the United States; and

WHEREAS the City values the many contributions made to this community through Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge, labor, technology, science, philosophy, arts, and the deep cultural contribution that has helped shape the character of the community; and

WHEREAS the City promotes equality for all Indigenous Peoples and honors our nation’s indigenous heritage, history, and contributions; and

WHEREAS the City is committed, through its diversity statement and anti-discrimination policies, to promote an environment where all may achieve their full potential; and

WHEREAS Indigenous Peoples’ Day was proposed in 1977 at the United Nations-sponsored International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas to promote Native American culture and commemorate the history of Native American peoples; now therefore

BE IT ORDAINED AND ENACTED by the Common Council of the City of Ithaca as follows:

Section 1. Findings of Fact.

The Common Council finds that:

  1. The City currently recognizes the second Monday of October as “Columbus Day.”
  2. It is desirous for the City to now recognize the second Monday of October as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” for the reasons described above.

Section 2. Recognition of “Indigenous Peoples Day” and Amendment of § 346-1(B), “Holidays.”

On the second Monday in October, the City shall recognize “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” and shall encourage the celebration of this day in a manner that promotes respect, understanding, and friendship; combats prejudice and bias; works to eliminate discrimination stemming from colonization; and acknowledges our history.

As such, the definition of “Holidays,” set forth in subsection 346-1(B) the City of Ithaca Municipal Code, is hereby amended as follows:

New Year’s Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day,Columbus Day Indigenous Peoples Day (second Monday in October), Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

Section 3. Severability Clause. 

Severability is intended throughout and within the provisions of this ordinance. If any section, subsection, sentence, clause, phrase, or portion of this ordinance is held to be invalid or unconstitutional by a court of competent jurisdiction, then that decision shall not affect the validity of the remaining portions of this ordinance.

Section 4. Effective Date.

This ordinance shall take effect immediately and in accordance with law upon publication of notices as provided in the Ithaca City Charter.

Ithaca Voice: Ithaca now a Sanctuary City with some teeth

Ithaca Voice: Ithaca now a Sanctuary City with some teeth

Alderman Ducson Nguyen, 2nd Ward, supported the ordinance saying, “It is deeply personal to me. I know you all know my parents are refugees.”

He said the first few days of Donald Trump’s presidency — which has so far seen seven controversial executive orders signed and at least 11 memos issued, many about immigration and health care — has been tough.

“I felt hopeless for a while,” he said, but the highly publicly supported ordinance felt like a concrete thing that he and the city could do to fight back.

Trump’s executive order on immigration

I am outraged by Trump’s executive order on immigration and the effects its chaotic introduction has had on some of the most vulnerable people on Earth. It’s an action that has led to the detention of refugees already approved for admission, already in the country at American airports, already with family waiting for them in the country, and facing persecution in their homeland for working with Americans during American-initiated wars.

It has trapped hundreds of thousands of visa holders inside and outside of the country. It’s leading to rising tensions with countries like Iran right when we’ve been making progress in normalizing relations. It’s providing fuel to violent groups who have been eager to paint the United States as being at war with Islam.

It’s an act of unspeakable cruelty and short-sighted idiocy. But it’s also deeply personal. I can’t even enjoy Tết, the Vietnamese celebration of Lunar New Year, because I’m preoccupied by imagining my parents fleeing war-ravaged Vietnam and having nowhere to go and nobody to take them in.

Fortunately for them and for me, that wasn’t how the story played out. My parents were taken in and given an opportunity to build a good life. Now their son represents a city that welcomes refugees, provides sanctuary for immigrants of any legal status, rallies for women’s and immigrant rights, and fights fascism in all its forms.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to work for you. Together we will #resist.

WHCU: Sanctuary city resolution tabled, possible federal guidance to be released

WHCU: Sanctuary city resolution tabled, possible federal guidance to be released

Lawmaker Ducson Nguyen says five community members came to speak in favor of the resolution and that the tabling wasn’t because of lack of support.

“It was tabled but not for any lack of support for the spirit of the resolution. It was tabled because some committee members were concerned about how complicated the language was and to make that language simpler and more accessible,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen says the resolution is to help protect vulnerable members of the community.

“So we’re not asking, you know, City staff to break the law. But that when they’re serving residents it shouldn’t be a priority to identify whether or not they are documented,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen says the committee got word from Mayor Svante Myrick, who is currently in D.C., that Attorney General Loretta Lynch could be releasing guidance this week for cities looking to craft similar resolutions.

Ithaca Voice: My refugee parents and our American lives

I wrote a piece about my parents’ escape from war-ravaged Vietnam and their arrival in the United States (I didn’t choose this title and it’s a bit literal for my tastes):
My refugee parents and our American lives

My father’s bottle of cognac slipped out of his grip and plunged into the Saigon River in April 1975. Besides a hastily-packed bag of clothing it was the only thing he carried as he rushed aboard a boat fleeing Vietnam in the final days of one of the most senseless wars in American history. I exist because of that violence, and the American people’s willingness to make amends for it.

My father credits martial law with helping his family escape Vietnam. With everyone confined to their homes, the whole family was together when my great uncle called from Khánh Hội Port to inform them that people were jumping aboard any ships they could find to leave the country. My father (as eldest son) finalized the decision to risk being shot by ignoring the order to stay indoors. They didn’t know until they left the house that soldiers were too distracted — trying to stay alive as Saigon was being shelled — to enforce martial law.

It was at the port, on a gangway leading to a boat, that my father lost his bottle of cognac as the flood of people rushing aboard knocked it into the water. The boat was bound for Taiwan but limited fuel diverted them to the Philippines, where the U.S. Navy picked up the refugees to take them to Guam and, ultimately, Eglin Air Force Base in Florida’s Panhandle.

My father (right) at Eglin Air Force Base, 1975

My mother’s journey was less chaotic, as her cousin owned a boat upon which she and her family had arranged passage. That boat and others got picked up by U.S. Navy ships parked in the East Sea (the South China Sea to some) waiting to intercept fleeing refugees. My mom and her family ended up at Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania, a half hour’s drive from Harrisburg.

Camp Pendleton in California and Fort Chaffee in Arkansas joined Eglin Air Force Base and Fort Indiantown Gap in resettling the roughly 125,000 Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian refugees that made up the first wave of southeast Asian immigration in the spring of 1975.

Refugees couldn’t leave a camp until a sponsor volunteered to help them. Sponsors were responsible for finding lodging and work for refugees and their families. Sponsors would also help with transportation, clothing, and otherwise acclimating to a new culture. This could include how to shop for groceries, getting a driver’s license, or how to get a mortgage. Sponsors could be individuals or non-profit organizations — both religious and nonreligious.

Most of my father’s family actually had a Canadian cousin sponsor their citizenship up north, but in pursuit of a job with an American colleague who had worked in Vietnam, my dad ended up in Pittsburgh. My mother’s family found sponsors in Richmond, Virginia but my mom eventually received a scholarship to attend Waynesburg College (now University) an hour outside Pittsburgh.

It was in that southwestern corner of Pennsylvania that my parents met at a Lunar New Year celebration with Vietnamese refugees in the area. They were married in August 1979 and their first son (that’s me!) was born nine months later. My brother Vu and sister Quynh followed in 1982 and 1985.

My dad was one of a handful of Vietnamese students who had earned scholarships to study in Australia, and thus had conversational English skills by the time he arrived in the United States. That and an electrical engineering degree secured him good work with RCA and then the government. My mother mostly stayed home to take care of the kids, but eventually worked in banking and a university bursar’s office once we got older.

We lived many of the Asian stereotypes: we ate a lot of rice at home, I grew up using chopsticks, and dedication to school was paramount. Just about the only vacations we could afford were trips to visit family in Montreal or Richmond, but we lived a comfortable life in suburban New Jersey. A fairly robust Vietnamese community in nearby Philadelphia, largely centered around the Buddhist temple, kept my parents connected with a familiar culture.

My parents were astonished when I told them I was running for office. I’m not particularly outgoing and I hadn’t expressed interest in participating in politics before. When I won, relatives asked my parents whether I lived in a predominantly Asian town. I don’t want to project clichés about having achieved the American Dream onto them, but my parents are proud of having raised someone who was able to both achieve traditional success of a good career in a STEM field while engaging well enough to win the trust of (most of) my community.

Local birtherism, shortly after announcing my candidacy

All I’ve known is a solidly American middle-class — and thus quite privileged — life. I was as angsty and ungrateful in my teenage years as any of my peers and not once did my parents call to my attention the suffering and sacrifices required to provide me the privilege of whining about, say, getting access to the car. I’m grateful to have been shielded enough to have lived a fairly prototypical American life (generously seasoned with Vietnamese culture at home), but even more grateful to have learned details of my parents’ escape over the past several years.

I can’t escape the irony that a war that I certainly would have opposed were I an American at the time directly lead to my existence. But life springing out of death and destruction isn’t a unique story. If we can bring any light to the numerous humanitarian crises around the world by taking in a tiny percentage of the 21 million people displaced from their homes, I implore you to support it. If you’re unsure whether immigrants can assimilate and contribute meaningfully, let my parents’ story be just one of millions across two and a half centuries of American history to show otherwise.

Anh Thu, Ducson, and Khanh Nguyen, swearing-in at City Hall December 31, 2015

Ithaca Voice: Ithaca team, including city councilman, wins $1,000,000 in computer hacking competition

Ithaca Voice: Ithaca team, including city councilman, wins $1,000,000 in computer hacking competition

One of the members of TECHx is none other than Ithaca’s recently-elected 2nd ward alderperson, Ducson Nguyen. Nguyen is a software engineer at GrammaTech.

Nguyen explained a bit more about the event and how the team prepared for it.

“We definitely split duties based on everyone’s research background, talent, or whatever the team’s need. Some, like me, primarily worked on infrastructure, others focused on defense, while others honed our offense. But many of us also crossed over to do whatever was needed,” Nguyen explained. “I think we’re all motivated to solve difficult problems and be involved in cutting edge work, so when you hear us say the bragging rights were more important than the money, that’s not just lip service.”

Some might find the idea of turning a bunch of computers crunch code into a spectator sport an insane notion, but Nguyen says that the event organizers made an effort to make the event exciting and accessible.

“The live event was very exciting and DARPA gets a lot of credit for making a highly technical, very nerdy competition accessible to people outside our field and dramatic to everyone,” Nguyen said. “They gave us very infrequent updates on scores, which was frustrating since we were desperate to know how we were doing, but I can’t deny it really added to the drama.”