Student Group Wakes Up Viet Cong, Band Changes Their Name

Vietnamese Student Association of Minnesota leads protest against band for cultural appropriation

Illustrator: Lizzie Goncharova

Illustrator: Lizzie Goncharova

It’s the end of the road for Canadian punk band Viet Cong’s name. Unaware of their racist name and under heavy pressure from the Vietnamese community, the band announced that they will change their name (new name TBD). The Vietnamese Student Association of Minnesota led a protest against the band before their performance at 7th St. Entry on September 24, calling the band to choose a new name on the grounds of cultural appropriation. “Viet Cong is part of our culture, and it’s a negative part of our culture. It affected our parents and family members, so you shouldn’t take this lightly,” said Jillian Tran, president of VSAM. “We lost our homes, and family members.”

The Viet Cong were a communist group representing North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The war forced thousands of Vietnamese to flee the country, with many coming to the United States. Brandon Luu, the treasurer for the VSAM sees the Viet Cong as “The reason my family was divided for many, many years.” He says the name “Brings back memories, for my parents especially.”

The journey to North America was not easy for those who fled. “We had to sacrifice so much to come over here,” said Veronica Nguyen, external vice president of VSAM, “It’s something that you don’t forget.”

Once aware that Viet Cong would be performing in Minneapolis, VSAM organized a protest with help from Vietnamese American Organizers and Pan-Asian Voices for Equity. The group of about 30 protesters included Minnesota Senator Foung Hawj, who grew up living in Vietnam War refugee camps.

Viet Cong is reason my family was divided for many, many years. The name brings back memories, for my parents especially.

The band spoke with protesters once they arrived at the venue, saying they were now aware of the cultural significance of the name but did not explicitly apologize to the Vietnamese community. “Our last show is December 6. We have every intention of changing the name,” bassist and lead vocalist Matt Flagel said. “We have to run these next few shows, we’re under contract.”

This isn’t the first time that the band has faced backlash due to their name. Their performance on March 14 at Oberlin College in Ohio was cancelled because of protests. On September 19, after the VSAM protest was organized, the band released a statement to change their name “Over this time we’ve been listening, talking and having lots of valuable conversations with the members of the Vietnamese community about the name. Through this dialogue and hearing about what the name means to so many people, we have decided we will be changing the name of our band.”

Before the name-change announcement, the name was “Something they didn’t even think about before naming the band.” According to Tran after the band researched the name, they didn’t feel a need to change it. In response to the accusation, Flagel responded “It’s been a big learning curve for us. We never thought that we’d get to this level of being in any sort of public eye.”

Flagel dismissed the idea of discussing the significance of the name on stage, saying “I’m not political. We didn’t realize, we’re idiots.”

The band has yet to choose a new name, which is why the group followed through with the protest. “We knew that they released a statement saying that they would change their name but we continued the protest because they didn’t say when they were going to change the name,” Tran said.

Facing controversy over a band name is nothing new to Flagel. He and drummer Mike Wallace were in a band known as “Women” from 2007 to 2012.

The group wanted an immediate change as the band continues to sell merchandise and albums with the Viet Cong name on it. A statement from VSAM said the band was “Profiting financially off the backs of not only Vietnamese refugee communities, but also U.S Vietnam Veterans, and our children through performances, merchandising, and interviews for the sake of publicity and sales.”

The band has yet to choose a new name, which is why the group followed through with the protest. “We knew that they released a statement saying that they would change their name but we continued the protest because they didn’t say when they were going to change the name,” Tran said.

The protests of Viet Cong bring into question the ethics of cultural appropriation, like if it’s right to use a name taken from another culture that has negative connotations. “Even though they have artistic freedom, they have to know where the limits are,” Tran said.

As for avoiding this issue in the future, Tran offers some advice. “Be open minded and think about if this were to happen to you in your culture. So many bad things have happened in history. Why would you use that?”

Cultural appropriation is a serious issue deserving of attention. Even a simple Google search for “Viet Cong” will tell you all you need to know about the name. Bands/artists/etc.: Know the meaning behind your name. A quirky name isn’t worth reopening wounds of an entire community of people.