As most of us know, Veasna Nuon came here from Cambodia when Chester Atkins, then the Congressman from this district, got permission to allow Cambodians to settle as legal immigrants in the United States. All was not cheery and friendly when the first Asians got here. There was a fair amount of grousing about the Asian influx in Lowell, which I felt was kind of funny since Lowell is, and seems that it always will be, an immigrant’s destination city. At the time, a number of Lowell’s citizens looked on the Cambodian influx as an affront. They did not anticipate a thriving, culture driven, and business inspired, culture. That, however, is what they got.
Veasna was one of the early immigrants who studied hard to become an American citizen. He had to learn English, which is one of the hardest languages to learn, according to Miss Rita Sullivan, my English teacher in Lowell High School. From early on, after acquiring his citizenship, he was vitally interested in politics. He ran twice for School Committee, coming close, but not quite making it. Finally, two years ago, he ran for City Council and won. He has been a good, in my opinion, City Councilor, fair in his dealings with everyone, willing to listen, and voting with the Manager on most issues. Now he is engaged in a no-holds-barred effort to undermine his candidacy by a person who would like to see the City Manager take a hike. In 2009, he failed to file his election financial reports. That mistake is haunting his re-election campaign. In addition, in 2013 he is being pressed for a quote that someone said that he uttered, telling people not to vote for Rita Mercier. Based on my reading of the complaint in the local newspaper in its political column, Mrs. Mercier has been told by four people that Veasna has told Cambodians not to vote for Mrs. Mercier. When I approached him, he flatly denied ever alluding to that in any way.
He and I sat in his front yard on Sunday the first of September, and he stated unequivocally that he did not ever make that statement and that he tried to call Mrs. Mercier and tell her that, but she did not answer the telephone or return his calls. It seems to me that, if Mrs. Mercier had heard it from only four people, as the newspaper said, she would have taken his calls and given him a chance to explain. A lot is lost in translation, and I cannot even guess what is being said in a Cambodian conversation, despite the fact that my next door neighbors are fluent in Cambodian and try to teach me some of the Khmer language.
This is what I have heard. Veasna told me that he never told a single individual not to vote for anyone. He certainly would not anger Mrs. Mercier’s many supporters by saying something negative about her. The local newspaper knows that that would be political suicide. So why did they run it? I never can say why the newspaper runs any of its “stories.” I do not believe, based on what I read in the newspaper, that anyone really went to Veasna to get his side of the incident. Again, he insists that he did not say to anyone, especially the Cambodian community, anything derogatory about Rita Mercier. As you all know, it is tough not to love Rita. She is a Lowell institution.
I would say that we get off of this bandwagon. The charge was made, it was refuted, and there are certainly more pressing projects to pursue in the city.