LOS ANGELES— Ever since the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, names of his possible successor have been circulating in Washington and throughout the legal community, including that of Jacqueline Nguyen, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Vietnam.
More than 50 kilometers south of Los Angeles is Little Saigon – also known as the “capital of the Vietnamese refugee community.” There is excitement here as news circulates that a Vietnamese-American could be named to the Supreme Court.
“They want to have somebody over here achieve something, like represent them, so they can tell the people (Vietnamese communists), 'Hey, we ran away from you but now we’re successful.' So that’s kind of the feeling that people have," said Dzung Do, Nguoi Viet managing editor.
As managing editor of the largest Vietnamese newspaper outside of Vietnam, Dzung Do has interviewed Nguyen. He says many in the Vietnamese community can relate to her.
Nguyen and her family fled their homeland when the communists took over South Vietnam. As a refugee in the U.S., Nguyen first lived in a tent city before settling in Los Angeles. She spoke about her experience in this video produced by U.S. Courts.
“My parents were in shock because not only did they have to deal with the loss of their homeland but also with the prospect of starting all over again, trying to figure out how to provide food and shelter and raise six children in a foreign land. Whenever job opportunities came our way my mom would take it," Nguyen said.
Long time friend Mia Yamamoto said Nguyen’s background shaped her dedication to service throughout her legal career.
"She passed up a lot of more advantageous and, certainly, more lucrative options in order to pursue her passion for public service," said Yamamoto, a criminal defense attorney.
US Court of Appeals judge
Nguyen is currently serving as a U.S. Court of Appeals Judge.
”Now we have a pipeline, finally, of Asian Americans who can be truly and seriously considered for the Supreme Court, something we didn’t have a few years ago, and that’s really exciting," said Karin Wang of Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Los Angeles.
Yamamoto added: “The fact that we’re talking about it right now is a triumph. ... For every refugee, for every immigrant, to look at her and say. 'I can do this, too. My children can be empowered and they can rise up in the same way' ... and that really is the American ideal.”
Regardless of who is named as the Supreme Court nominee, many Asian Americans say Nguyen’s story of overcoming the odds and becoming a federal judge is already a legacy and an inspiration for immigrants from around the world.