"Captain America" Councilmember on Trump's Immigration Ban and His Parents' American Dream

"America is at its strongest when it's compassionate and it's open," says Lan Diep.
Courtesy of YouTube/Inverse

Many feel Captain America is needed now more than ever, so it's no surprise that the image of a San Jose Councilmember being sworn in using Cap's shield made national headlines — and elevated the young politician to internet fame.

San Jose Councilmember (and comic book fan) Lan Diep dug the collector's item (produced for Captain America: The First Avenger) out of his closet and on a whim decided to bring it to his swearing in ceremony Jan. 24. Messages began pouring in praising him, with many his new fans assuming Diep used the shield as a form of protest of President Donald Trump's policies.  

Though the Republican says it was not an act of protest, he does have a very personal connection to a controversial executive order Trump signed days after Diep's ceremony: an immigration and travel ban on seven predominately Muslim countries.  

"Its upsetting to me. America is at its strongest when it's compassionate and it's open, when it stands up in the face of danger knowing that terrorism and danger lurks out there," says Diep, whose parents were political refugees who fled communism in Vietnam, and were welcomed with open arms in the United States.  

In a conversation with Heat Vision, the attorney (whose first name Lan rhymes with "fun," he wants people to know) also shares his thoughts on what Captain America means for the U.S. during uncertain times.

How did you decide to bring the shield to your swearing in ceremony?

In the moment, before I decided to do it, I just felt like I had this cool shield I wanted to show off. The shield to me is an extension of the flag, so it's not proppy in the sense that if I had brought Aquaman's trident to the proceedings. It's patriotic. So it was OK.

What does the shield represent to you?

The shield represents America's ideals. The things I want to strive for: fair play, equal justice, liberty. The things I want to protect in my little part of San Jose. And to give back to the country that has done so much for me. I wasn't protesting the president or doing anything like that. But I received a lot of messages, both negative and positive, from people in the last week. It makes me realize that I kind of became a touchstone for people who are disappointed with the current political climate and who see what I did as a symbol of hope — and that really surprised me. People thanked me and told me I was brave for doing it. Some people have called me an embarrassment, but it comes with the territory.

It sounds like in a way, people can read into what you did however they want.

I wasn't intending it at the time, but after the fact, I think it is a nice image to see a Vietnamese guy be Captain America. "American" means many different things, so to challenge that traditional narrative. On the negative side, some people assumed I got sworn in on my shield instead of a Bible. In California, at least at the local level, you just raise your hand and take the oath. There is no Bible. Not everyone in California is a Christian, so there's no requirement that you get sworn in on anything.   

And this was actually not your first swearing in ceremony for this office.

It was my third swearing in ceremony, which is why I felt it was ceremonial, it was redundant, and therefore I could have a little fun with it, because it wasn't the official. I've been in office since Jan. 1, so I'd already been sworn in.

What are your thoughts on the president's immigration ban?

That's upsetting to me, as the son of Vietnamese refugees, political refugees, who fled from Communism in Vietnam. My parents came to the United States and they were welcomed with open arms. They worked hard, but they were also given federal assistance. They were given student loans and federal aid to give them the opportunities to climb the economic ladder and then they put me and my brother through college. I went on to law school. I've helped people with my education and the skills I acquired. So it's upsetting to me. America is at its strongest when it's compassionate and it's open, when it stands up in the face of danger knowing that terrorism and danger lurks out there.

To me, America represents a symbol of hope to the rest of the world, to oppressed peoples everywhere. To the people who actually make it here, we are the land of opportunity. And that's been the case with my parents, with my family, with countless other refugees and immigrants who have arrived here.

Do you think the ideals of Captain America can teach us anything in today's climate?

I think Americans need to continue to be open, be brave and win over the people who oppose us by being that shining example of what a free society can be. In the context of Captain America, he represents those ideals, but he doesn't serve any one president. He doesn't serve any one administration, or any one government. He follows his own moral compass, and I didn’t plan it, but it kind of seems apropos.

What do you think the role of local governments will be under the current administration?

Under this administration, through what we've seen in the past few days, it's clear that local government — state, county and city governments  — will have a bigger role to play in protecting and serving our residents, and so San Jose will step up to that challenge.

What are you working on in San Jose that you are most excited about?

San Jose is the 10th largest city in the U.S. It's the capital of the Silicon Valley, and in my term, I hope to really make San Jose earn that moniker. Venture capitalists and innovation happens maybe a bit farther up north in Palo Alto. I want to attract a little bit more of that innovation to San Jose proper, and locally we are going to get BART for the first time into my district, so I want to make sure that goes smoothly. San Jose is dealing with rebuilding its police force, so hiring great people back to San Jose to bolster our ranks and tackle things like affordable housing and the stagnant economy. Making San Jose a vibrant place that is accessible to people of all incomes and all creeds.  

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