Zach Benjamin, Erica's husband, is white. He shakes his head over all the times he hears Erica's cousins answer in English when they're addressed in Vietnamese.
"If they keep doing it, they're going to forget it," he says. "And it would be a shame, because it's a good thing to know, and their family has gone a long way just to come here, let alone actually prosper here."
A family affair: The young Sum (third from top
left) with the family he left behind in Vietnam.
Although Erica can't make it, Zach attends a barbecue that Suong is hosting to raise money for Sum's city-council campaign. Suong, who owned Geisha Steakhouse with her husband for seven years, has set up an eclectic spread of dishes in the back yard, everything from chicken teriyaki and fried rice to twice-baked potatoes and brisket with cranberry and portobello mushrooms. Classics from the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and Janis Joplin play in the background as Sum takes the microphone to introduce every guest and ask them to say a few words.
"This is the least we can do for him," Danh says at the mike. "We're really proud of all the things he's done -- not only for our family, but he's helped a lot of people along the way. All he wants is to really do good work for the community -- Vietnamese, black, white. To him, there's only one race, and that's the human race."
Melissa and her cousins have hidden inside the house. When they sneak outside to fill their plates, Sum tries to lure them to the microphone, but they act like they don't hear him and run back inside.
There are Vietnamese, black and white people among Sum's supporters, and he mentions that two of his granddaughters have black boyfriends.
"I don't look at the color of the skin," Sum says. "I look at the character of the people."