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U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam raps a new year's message and it is just what we need

The U.S. ambassador to Vietnam released a rap video to wish the people of that country a happy Lunar New Year. The reactions have been mixed so far. Consider this story a palate cleanser after another long day in today’s politics.

Ambassador Daniel Kritenbrink, a Trump appointee, is receiving both praise and criticism for his gesture of goodwill. In the video, the ambassador is shown wearing headphones and is accompanied by local music stars. They drank coffee and sample Vietnamese snacks as he raps in English with some Vietnamese sprinkled in. The holiday is called Tet, though, and that word conjures up some bad history. The video was released on the U.S. Embassy’s Facebook page.

The Tet Offensive was a part of the Vietnam war. In 1968, the North Vietnamese attacked more than 100 cities and outposts in South Vietnam to try to get the United States to push back its involvement in the war. Most historians now consider the Tet Offensive a tactical victory for the United States. The North Vietnamese gained no ground at that time. The North Vietnamese ended up with 40,000 dead Communist soldiers. The United States and the South Vietnamese suffered the loss of 3,000 Americans and South Vietnamese combined. The surprise attack took place during the Tết holiday, the Vietnamese New Year.

When I saw Khang Vu’s tweet, I admit to flinching. I grew up watching the war coverage of the Vietnam war on the nightly news. My husband, a little older than me, is a Vietnam veteran. Responses from people of a certain age are usually not favorable to mentions of the country. I get it. However, it is quite remarkable how the two countries have managed to establish a relationship in the aftermath, over the years. Bill Clinton (a Vietnam draft dodger) announced the formal normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on July 11, 1995. Former POW and now deceased Senator John McCain made several trips back to Vietnam and Barack Obama visited in 2016. Obama lifted a long-standing embargo. Tensions over trade issues have grown recently. Washington has accused Hanoi of currency manipulation.

The job of an ambassador is to maintain a bridge between the United States and another country to nurture a cooperative relationship. His gesture is a good way to reach out to the next generation as an affirmation that the relationship is good. Kritenbrink is a career member of the Foreign Service. He previously served in Kuwait, China, and Japan. He isn’t a wealthy American who donated generously to the president’s campaign, or a personal friend. Trump obviously appointed him for his career experience.

The Lunar New Year, Tet, is the most important annual holiday for Vietnamese. The center of the holiday is family gatherings. The ambassador used some charm in a good-natured way to extend best wishes to the Vietnamese people on the eve of Tet. He will likely be replaced by President Biden, so his days are numbered for that assignment. There is a connection to a popular tv show.

The clip, produced by Ho Chi Minh City-based culture magazine Vietcetera, sees Kritenbrink eager to take part in the second season of “Rap Viet,” a popular TV talent show for Vietnamese rappers.

After a quick call, he collaborates with Vietnamese rapper Wowy, who rose to prominence in 2006 with pioneering rap group SouthGanZ. Together, the duo stroll before cultural landmarks in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, sketching out lyrics and working on rhymes.

Kritenbrink then leaps out of a public bus and starts spitting bars about the coming festival.

“Check the calendar, Tet is coming soon / Can Tho and Danang are in the mood.”

In the clip, Kritenbrink goes on to mention Vietnamese Tet traditions such as cleaning the house and buying sprigs of peach blossoms or cherry blossoms, yet closes with a reference to improved diplomatic ties between the two former foes:

“U.S. and Vietnam, from now to forever / We’re trusted partners, prospering together.”

Critics scold Kritenbrink for less than professional behavior.

One commenter, Phuong Nguyen, said: “What is this? The State Department is now turning into the Ministry for Rapping, huh? Ever since Biden was elected, the ambassador has had nothing to do, so he’s preparing to switch to making professional dance songs?”

Other viewers complimented him for the outreach.

Bill Barnes
I love the video. It gets beyond the typical stiff diplomatic ceremonies and meetings and comes across to the young people and all Vietnamese. I especially enjoyed the ambassador moving along the streets, being among the people, standing by the old Post Office, and cathedral. I wish all Americans could see Vietnam as I have by traveling and enjoying the people, their country, and their culture.

I like it. I took it in the spirit in which it was meant. Biden would be smart to keep him in that position but we know that Biden’s foreign policy history is not good. He’s been historically wrong in most of his decisions.

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