Bud Kennedy

A turnabout: Years ago, Haltom City didn’t want refugees. Now, meet the new mayor

Four decades ago, Klansmen in robes and hoods handed out white supremacist flyers as Haltom City residents argued against welcoming Vietnamese or Cuban refugees.

In 1975, then-Mayor Johnnie B. Lee said: “I think the U.S. has done more than its share for Vietnam.”

Welcome to 2019 in Haltom City.

“I was not aware anything like that ever happened,” said the new mayor, An Truong.

“Times have changed.”

In the shadow of Fort Worth and Arlington, now ranked as two of America’s most diverse cities, one sign of change came in the Haltom City election last month.

“This city is a new city,” said Truong, 70, a former Fort Worth police officer and county undercover investigator. He won outright with 58 percent of the vote against two old-guard former city officials.

“There are still racial issues here. But it’s not as important anymore.”

I read Truong the intriguing local news last week from Washington, D.C.-based Wallethub.com.

Arlington is finally listed as one of America’s top big cities.

It’s the No. 2 most racially diverse city in the central U.S. (No. 1: Chicago.)

Overall, Arlington is the No. 5 most diverse city in America, counting everything from race and language to age, education and occupation. (Nos. 1-4: Houston, New York, Dallas, Los Angeles.)

Fort Worth, folksy old Cowtown, is actually the No. 10 most diverse city behind only Chicago other cities in California.

This is good news.

“Diversity is very important for cities,” Truong said.

“Most cities are going to want to show their diversity and how well different ethnic groups get along. There is business from around the world that wants to come here. People want to move here and invest here.”

When Haltom City was fighting against refugee resettlement — one particularly volatile public meeting in 1980 over Cuban refugees drew hundreds in what is now Thomas Coliseum — Truong and his family were still in Pennsylvania, their first stop as refugees.

They moved to Texas in 1980 and former Vietnam War fighter pilot Ẩn Minh Trương became Fort Worth police offier An Truong.

In a WFAA/Channel 8 interview, he said other officers “laughed at me, saying, ‘you can’t speak English — you can’t learn English.’ “

He went on to help city and council officials as both officer and interpreter, particularly in the large Vietnamese and Laotian communities in the north Fort Worth, Haltom City, Keller and Saginaw area.

He first won a city council seat in 2013 and ran for mayor campaigning for new leadership, including more focus on creating a central-city area and a new city hall.

Haltom City shares a long history and a North Beach Street border with the Riverside neighborhood, where diversity also drew attention to Carter-Riverside High School last week.

A teacher was tentatively fired over her mistaken and botched attempt to complain on social media about “illegals.” She was apparently upset over Hispanic students she imagined might not be in America lawfully.

Texas’ 29 million residents include about 4 million Hispanic children. By best guesses, about 95 percent are here lawfully as Texans and Americans.

So if you see Hispanic students and think “foreigners,” then you’ve ignored the changes recent generations have brought to Texas.

“This is why, during my swearing-in ceremony, I spoke in three languages — Vietnamese, Spanish and English,” Truong said.

“Our Hispanic community is going to be so important to us, I try to tell everyone of every race or culture how important it is to get involved.”

Someday you might be mayor.

Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.