Through the Eye of Katrina  •  special issue, december 2007

Markers indicate locations discussed in this article; click on a marker for more details about a location.


Neighborhoods: Read more about the neighborhoods mentioned in this article. [+]

Lower Ninth Ward
Border by St. Bernard Parish, the Florida Canal, the Industrial Canal, and the Mississippi River, the Lower Ninth Ward is one of the last districts to be developed in New Orleans. More >

Bordered by Rampart, Broad, and Canal Streets and Esplanade Avenue, Tremé is one of the oldest black districts in New Orleans. More >

Resilient History and the Rebuilding of a Community: The Vietnamese American Community in New Orleans East

Karen J. Leong, Christopher A. Airriess, Wei Li, Angela Chia-Chen Chen, and Verna M. Keith

Journal of American History, 94 (Dec. 2007), 770–79

As the floodwaters have receded from New Orleans and rebuilding has begun, new stories of race relations have emerged and new histories are being written. One is the history of a predominantly Catholic Vietnamese American community located in eastern New Orleans. Before Hurricane Katrina, Vietnamese Americans constituted less than 1.5 percent of the city’s population. Since Katrina, the small Vietnamese American community in eastern New Orleans has received significant press coverage due to its members’ high rate of return and the rapid rebuilding of their community. This essay will explore how shared refugee experiences, the leadership role of the Catholic Church, and the historically specific circumstances of Vietnamese immigrant settlement in eastern New Orleans contributed to this community’s mobilization and empowerment. Some might attribute the community’s ability to recover so quickly to a strong work ethic and an innate identity—both features of the myth of Asian Americans as “model minorities.” That myth is a 1950s and 1960s construction that has since been deployed to justify racist assumptions about African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians. It also obscures historical processes. This essay argues that the eastern New Orleans Vietnamese American community’s response to Katrina is clearly rooted in its particular history and collective memory. As the experience of the Vietnamese American community in Village de L’Est demonstrates, history and memory are more than analytical artifacts—they are political resources.[1]

Ever since Hurricane Katrina left a path of destruction through the central gulf states, and particularly through the city of New Orleans, popular and scholarly discourse on race and Katrina has emphasized black and white. Initial media coverage viewed the disaster through a historical lens of United States black-white relations. That is not surprising because New Orleans prior to Katrina was a majority-black city, with African Americans constituting 68 percent of the population. The city’s early Afro-Creole culture had a major impact on the development of African American culture, and even today, according to the historian Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, New Orleans “remains, in spirit, the most African city in the United States.” During the first weeks of flooding, much media attention focused on the extreme devastation endured by the Lower Ninth Ward, a primarily African American neighborhood with concentrated poverty in eastern New Orleans, and to a lesser extent on Lakeview, an affluent Euro-American neighborhood. Except in independent ethnic media, the Latinos and Asian Americans of New Orleans were largely absent from the national post-Katrina discussions about race, class, and social justice in the United States. Obviously not impacted in the same numbers as African Americans, certain subpopulations in New Orleans—immigrants from Southeast Asia, Mexico, and Central America—also endured disproportionately high rates of poverty and suffered great losses and upheaval as a result of the flooding. Although some national media outlets addressed Katrina’s impact on the Vietnamese refugee shrimpers along the Gulf Coast, many people still are not aware that New Orleans was home to one of the largest concentrated settlements of Vietnamese Americans in the nation.[2]

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Thread: Ethnic geography Expand thread [+]

The ethnic geography of New Orleans circa 1800 was relatively simple. Locally born French-speaking Catholics (Creoles), from various Francophone/Hispanic regions and racial backgrounds, were spatially intermixed throughout the city. Follow thread in Campanella, “Ethnic Geography” >

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Thread: Extensive flooding in the Lower Ninth Ward Expand thread [+]

In Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, extensive flooding in the Lower Ninth Ward drew national attention to the area’s precarious geography. Yet the Lower Ninth Ward’s terrain is diverse and, as part of the city’s geological system, similar to that of other sections of New Orleans between the river and Lake Pontchartrain. Follow thread in Landphair, “Community, Vulnerability, and the Lower Ninth Ward” >

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Thread: Asian immigration in the Gulf Coast community of Bayou La Batre Expand thread [+]

In the 1970s a massive immigration of Asian refugees—Laotians, Cambodians, and Vietnamese—fleeing war and genocide in their homelands made their way to Bayou La Batre. Follow thread in Gaillard, “Tradition and Change in Bayou La Batre” >

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This particular Vietnamese American community, a legacy from the refugee resettlement beginning in the 1970s, is located in a residential suburb known as Village de L’Est in easternmost New Orleans. (See map 1.) In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the United States government relied on nongovernment and faith-based organizations to help relocate refugees from Vietnam in the United States across 821 zip codes. The Associated Catholic Charities of New Orleans, for example, relocated Vietnamese in New Orleans and found federally subsidized, low-income housing for 1,000 refugees in 1975 at the Versailles Arms Apartments. Chain migration—in which initial immigrants attract further migration of friends and family from the same place of origin—resulted in 2,000 more Vietnamese moving into the neighborhood near the apartments from their initial settlement locations. The Vietnamese population grew to nearly 5,000 by 1990.[3]

Map of Village de L’Est

Map 1. Map of Village de L’Est, home to the Vietnamese American community in New Orleans East. The map inset shows Village de L’Est’s position in relation to the New Orleans Central Business District and its proximity to the Chef Menteur landfill, which in May 2006 Vietnamese American and African American residents successfully lobbied to close. Courtesy Christopher A. Airriess.

Map of Village de L’Est

Map 1. Map of Village de L’Est, home to the Vietnamese American community in New Orleans East. The map inset shows Village de L’Est’s position in relation to the New Orleans Central Business District and its proximity to the Chef Menteur landfill, which in May 2006 Vietnamese American and African American residents successfully lobbied to close. Courtesy Christopher A. Airriess.

The influx of Vietnamese refugees and the white flight that began in the 1980s significantly changed the complexion of the neighborhood. By 1990 the neighborhood’s population was almost equally divided between African Americans and Vietnamese Americans. Its poverty rates were higher than the city’s pre-Katrina average of 18 percent, at almost 35 percent for African Americans and 31 percent for Vietnamese Americans. By 2000 in Village de L’Est, African Americans constituted 78 percent of renters of the Section 8 apartments (whose owners accept government subsidies in return for charging low-income tenants below-market rates). One-third of the Vietnamese American community was foreign-born. Even so, many African Americans and most Vietnamese Americans in the neighborhood were middle-class homeowners. In 1999 the average household income there was $20,753 for African Americans and $32,000 for Vietnamese Americans. The median housing value for Vietnamese American households in Village de L’Est was in the mid-$80,000 range. Although the neighborhood experienced tensions during the 1970s and 1980s, in the two decades prior to Katrina there was little public interaction, positive or negative, between the two groups.[4]

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Thread: Suburban populations Expand thread [+]

Suburban life-styles also beckoned to immigrants. Follow thread in Campanella, “Ethnic Geography” >

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Due to Katrina, the dynamics of eastern New Orleans have been altered yet again. By spring 2007 over 90 percent of the Vietnamese American residents but fewer than 50 percent of the African Americans had returned to Village de L’Est. For African American renters the unavailability of affordable rental housing has constituted a barrier to return; three apartment complexes had housed nearly 40 percent of the African American population in the neighborhood. During the first year of recovery, the Vietnamese American survivors’ early and high rate of return heightened their visibility and political leverage. By early December 2005, two months after Mayor C. Ray Nagin declared New Orleans safe for return, church leaders estimated that about six hundred individuals had returned and had begun cleaning and repairing Vietnamese American–owned homes in the neighborhood. The visible turnout of residents forced the city to provide dumpsters, and a petition signed by residents who stated their commitment to return to the neighborhood persuaded the utility company to restore power in mid-October 2005.[5]

To survive after Katrina, residents in this eastern New Orleans community had to establish themselves as active stakeholders both in their community and in the city. Fears that the city would not support efforts to rebuild its eastern part seemed confirmed in February 2006 when the mayor authorized the opening of a hurricane debris landfill less than two miles from Village de L’Est. (See map 1.) Already faced with the burden of rebuilding their lives, residents had to organize quickly and collaboratively to oppose the landfill. Protest against the Chef Menteur landfill united Vietnamese Americans, African Americans, environmentalists, other social justice advocates, and elected officials in the multiethnic Coalition for a Strong New Orleans East, which brought such pressure to bear on the city that the mayor chose not to renew the landfill contract in August 2006. The coalition’s political success, coupled with the relatively rapid repopulation of the isolated suburb with little city government assistance, became a highly popular Katrina story for national media outlets including the New York Times, cnn, and nbc Nightly News.[6]

National media coverage of the “Vietnamese Versailles community” generally presented a narrative that fit the stereotypical Asian American model-minority myth: in less than three generations the New Orleans Vietnamese refugees had seemingly mastered the political system and overcome Katrina through the self-sufficiency and hard work associated with Asian Americans in general. One New Orleans blogger observed in February 2006, “The story of this community is being touted across the city and region as an example of the power of ‘anchoring’ in the redevelopment of New Orleans neighborhoods.” Media reports emphasized individual choice and community cohesion without noting the lack of rental units, racial discrimination, or differences in environmental impact that prevented others from returning. Participants in online discussion boards drew comparisons between the Vietnamese American community and “the African American community in New Orleans,” even if media reports did not. One online participant stated, “These vietnamese folks are self-starters. the last thing they want is more governmental interference. nola’s blacks, on the other hand, would rather sit around and wait for the government to save them.” The New Orleans Louisiana Weekly, a local African American newspaper, in January 2006 hailed “The Miracle of Versailles: New Orleans Vietnamese Community Rebuilds” and ultimately concluded, “Perhaps the most important key to their success is that the Vietnamese community refused to place its salvation into the hands of the government. They simply came home.” Such emphasis on self-sufficiency ignores the voices of some members of the Vietnamese American community who have stated—echoing some African American community members—that federal government assistance is critical to rebuilding. Indeed, in separate interviews held in early 2006, Vietnamese American and African American residents of New Orleans East agreed that their community had received inadequate assistance in rebuilding from the state and city.[7]

This immigrant story is not simply one of resolve and initiative nor of the faith and community emphasized in media reports, but of a cultural hybridity and historically specific transformation that preceded migration. A historical perspective on the Village de L’Est Vietnamese American community’s faith and cohesion demonstrates how collective history and memory, in addition to the spatial concentration of this small Vietnamese American community, contributed to the ability to rebuild so quickly after Hurricane Katrina.[8] Father The Vien Nguyen, the pastor of Mary Queen of Vietnam Church, explained that the central role of the church in the community was not a postmigration phenomenon; it grew out of a pattern of church leadership that had developed in Vietnam over several hundred years. Catholicism, a foreign faith, was introduced into certain villages and transformed over time into a form of local leadership, subsequently motivating villagers to flee their homeland for fear of religious and political persecution. Spanish and Portuguese colonizers brought Catholicism to Vietnam in the sixteenth century. Vietnamese suspicion of foreign influences resulted in the persecution of Catholic Vietnamese in the early nineteenth century, and the persecution resulted in increased French intervention. After French colonial rule was established in the late nineteenth century, Vietnamese Catholics were free to worship. Initially, when Ho Chi Minh’s resistance army overthrew Japanese forces in 1945, the Catholics strongly supported his government, which benefited from nationalist sentiment that united the Vietnamese populace. That unity, however, soon unraveled after the formation of the second Ho Chi Minh government following national elections in 1946, as divisions increased between the Communists (Viet Minh) and noncommunists. This split fully manifested itself with the third Ho Chi Minh government, formed in November 1946, in which Communists dominated an overwhelming majority of the offices. By the 1950s Vietnamese Catholic leaders increasingly and openly condemned the Communist government of Ho Chi Minh.[9]

The 1954 Geneva agreements split the country into two—with Communists governing the north and the noncommunists the south. Many Vietnamese Catholics had moved north, and now, under Clause 14d of the agreements, had a limited period—the time the troops took to assemble in their respective locations—to move to the opposite zone if they so chose. As a result, some nine hundred thousand refugees, mostly Catholics, fled from their villages in the Red River delta diocese of Bui Chu to the south. In rural areas the priest was often the only source of leadership and assistance for a community. After the siege of Saigon in 1975, many Vietnamese in South Vietnam attempted to flee, and some of those who succeeded found shelter in refugee camps lining the South China Sea coast and processing centers in Guam or the Philippines. Of those who arrived in the United States, research suggests that at Camp Pendleton half the refugees (55 percent) were Roman Catholic and that at Fort Indiantown Gap 40 percent were. The majority of refugees who left the camps were sponsored by families or groups. The U.S. Catholic Conference accounted for 35 percent of the group sponsorships.[10]

After visiting the refugee camps, Archbishop Philip M. Hannan of New Orleans invited priests he met there to establish resettlement communities in New Orleans. He asked the Associated Catholic Charities of New Orleans to assist in finding Section 8 housing for the refugees. Vietnamese refugees in Village de L’Est originated from villages in the vicinity of Vung Tau city or the nearby village of Phuc Tinh, both located in the Ba Ria–Vung Tau province some 120 kilometers southeast of Saigon. (See map 2.) In 1985 the community founded its own ethnic parish, centered on Mary Queen of Vietnam Church. The religious faith, church leadership, and social organization that informed the migration decisions of these Vietnamese refugees and immigrants have contributed to a strong community identity.[11]

Map of locations from which Vietnamese residents of New Orleans’s Village de L’Est migrated in the 1970s and 1980s.

Map 2. Map of locations from which Vietnamese residents of New Orleans’s Village de L’Est migrated in the 1970s and 1980s. Map by Christopher A. Airriess. Courtesy Christopher A. Airriess.

Map of locations from which Vietnamese residents of New Orleans’s Village de L’Est migrated in the 1970s and 1980s.

Map 2. Map of locations from which Vietnamese residents of New Orleans’s Village de L’Est migrated in the 1970s and 1980s. Map by Christopher A. Airriess. Courtesy Christopher A. Airriess.

The concentrated settlement pattern of Vietnamese Americans in Village de L’Est, 75 percent of whom are Catholic, facilitated the implementation of the leadership structure and village-based community in the New Orleans neighborhood. The primary adaptation among the immigrant community has been that “the involvement of laypeople in meeting the needs of the community has increased since migration to the United States.” As he did in Vietnam, the priest serves as the primary leader not only of religious life but also of the parish community. He is supported by a council that makes parish decisions, with each member representing a specific zone within the parish (in Village de L’Est, there are seven designated zones). Each zone, in turn, is divided into street units called “hamlets,” with their own representatives and saints. The celebration of feast and saints’ days facilitates community building among neighbors. The representatives have increasingly brought the political and social concerns of their constituents to the attention of the council. The council has responded by organizing committees to take care of specific community needs, including raising funds for burial expenses or assisting newcomers.[12]

The preexisting leadership structure was one of the most important community resources in the rebuilding process, allowing the church to keep track of its members’ locations in Katrina’s diaspora. Community members largely relied on their own social networks to evacuate with family and friends and to locate temporary housing in shelters or in other Vietnamese communities throughout the nation. The church choir, for example, caravaned as a group out of New Orleans days before the hurricane. The parish priests cared for the remaining elderly and those unable to evacuate on their own until they were all able to evacuate the flooded neighborhood. The community’s limited size allowed Father Nguyen to visit parish members scattered throughout various states and set up a recovery network. He recalled, “My people were scattered in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, and Arkansas. . . . My people were in California, Georgia, Florida, Washington, Minnesota, Michigan, and the Carolinas. They even went so far as New Hampshire and Connecticut.” The pastor asked available council and hamlet representatives to meet in Houston to plan for the return to the parish as soon as permission was granted for people to reenter New Orleans. According to Nguyen, on October 5, the first day people could return to the city to begin the cleanup, more than three hundred parish members did so. It must be noted that the pastor has been a prominent source of information about the community. His role in narrating the Vietnamese community’s collective dispersal and return to New Orleans serves to define both a cohesive faith identity for the Catholic Vietnamese Americans and a broader refugee identity of survival and sociocultural adjustment that includes all Vietnamese American residents regardless of religion.[13]

The Vietnamese American community in New Orleans East possesses social and cultural capital that is based on its members’ lived experience and historical memory. Because migration occurred within the past three generations and under the conditions of war, the community has sustained the strong social networks that operated during the refugee and migration experience as well as confidence in the efficacy of those networks. Members of the community exhibit a sense of strength derived from their experiences as war refugees or as recent immigrants. When asked about the difference between leaving Vietnam and evacuating from New Orleans, one person who had just arrived in the United States in 2004 and had not yet returned to New Orleans from Houston by March 2006 noted that the former was much more dangerous: “It is harder leaving from your culture. Hurricane is nothing. In the hurricane, you have your family with you all the time.” Observing that “our life is not as hard as it was before,” this individual, like many others in the community, perceived the evacuation and rebuilding of New Orleans as less difficult than complete relocation from one’s place of origin. That memory, along with the experience of adjusting to the United States, is shared by Catholic and Buddhist Vietnamese Americans and further contributes to a collective community identity.[14]

In addition to the role of religious faith in shaping immigrant life and ethnic community, the particular timing of Katrina also afforded the Vietnamese American community certain resources. Local activists had been working within the community to develop homeowner associations in response to concerns about community safety and had been attending city council meetings to articulate those concerns. National networks that had originated with the first waves of Vietnamese refugees arriving in the United States, such as Boat People sos, also offered their assistance to evacuees as they negotiated the bureaucracy of Federal Emergency Management Agency (fema) claims, insurance claims, and food stamps. Although those networks did not limit their assistance to Southeast Asian Americans, they built on their knowledge of those communities, familiarity in guiding recent immigrants through paper work, and ability to speak in various Asian languages, and they operated mainly in locations with high concentrations of Southeast Asian evacuees. In other words, having as refugees developed a community with limited (but not insignificant) federal and local government assistance, community members can draw on their relatively recent experience in rebuilding yet again.[15]

New patterns of interethnic interaction and spatial distribution may yet emerge in the aftermath of Katrina as New Orleans rebuilds. Katrina’s enormous impact appears to have decreased the African American population while attracting Latino workers who are taking construction jobs. By November 2006, a few Latino-owned businesses, including restaurants and remittance offices, had opened up to serve the growing Latino population along the primarily Vietnamese business strip off Chef Menteur highway. Early that month some individuals standing outside those businesses—from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras—indicated that they labored in construction and that many of them rely on social networks to locate work. In an interview about the new Latino presence in this area, Martin Gutierrez of Catholic Charities stated, “There will be some friction, but at the same time we all believe diversity is a strength.” According to Nguyen, Latino immigrants have begun to attend services at Mary Queen of Vietnam even though they do not understand the Vietnamese language.[16]

Over the two years since Katrina made landfall, the community has gained confidence as it successfully leverages its newly found political power. Neighborhood Catholic and Protestant churches have worked together since the hurricane to forge multiracial cooperation in the rebuilding of the community. The Oakland Tribune reported that Mary Queen of Vietnam provided volunteers to assist the primarily African American churches in the neighborhood with their cleanup. In May 2006 the Vietnamese American and African American Village de L’Est community joined with representatives of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization, to demand the closing of the Chef Menteur landfill. All those efforts appear to be creating a new, more extended form of community. One African American focus group participant recalled that “those Vietnamese spent like 20 hours came to our church, clean our church and prepare for us” and that the priest had visited the service to talk about the Vietnamese American community. Another observed of the Vietnamese American community, “These people can teach us different things, they can teach us things . . . like I’m saying . . . they’ll all become the real community.” When asked if the possibility for Vietnamese Americans and African Americans to work together had increased, focus group participants agreed that Katrina “brought us closer.” The most recent New Orleans rebuilding plan proposed by Mayor Nagin and Dr. Ed Blakely, director of the city’s Office of Recovery Management, in April 2007 listed the area among the top seventeen neighborhoods that will receive further assistance as a result of the recognized high return and rebuilding rates. Local Vietnamese American leaders consider making the list a collective victory in deciding the fate of the community.[17]

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Thread: Rebuilding New Orleans’s Black churches Expand thread [+]

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005, African American churches in New Orleans were both heirs of and contributors to the community-building tradition of the black church. Follow thread in DeVore, “Rebuilding New Orleans Black Churches” >

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The newly forged history of working together to survive sudden change and uncertainty provides a shared hope for this neighborhood, and even for the city. Cynthia Willard-Lewis, an African American member of the city council who represents the neighborhood (and in April 2006 hired a Vietnamese American to work in her office), suggested that the cooperation and rebuilding exhibited by the Vietnamese American community “can be a model for other communities. They are fighting to stay united and connected.” This community unity is already being mobilized to face a new challenge. In late August 2007, two weeks of deadly shootings and robberies suggested that Village de L’Est is now a target for violence, perhaps as a result of the publicity surrounding the community’s success in rebuilding. Willard-Lewis, Father Nguyen, and other community leaders have responded by working to increase police response time and protection for residents.[18]

Historians are well aware that historical memory can be, and has been, mobilized in dangerous ways. Yet the experience of this Vietnamese community in eastern New Orleans in the aftermath of the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina is a powerful reminder that memories and knowledge of the past can also function as a significant source of community resilience and transformation.

Karen J. Leong is associate professor of Asian Pacific American studies and women and gender studies at Arizona State University, Tempe. Christopher A. Airriess is professor of geography at Ball State University. Wei Li is associate professor of Asian Pacific American studies and geography at Arizona State University, Tempe. Angela Chia-Chen Chen is assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Arizona State University, Phoenix. Verna M. Keith is professor in the Department of Sociology and the Center for Demography and Population Health, Florida State University.

Some of the research for this essay was funded by two U.S. National Science Foundation grants (0555135 and 0555086) for a pilot project, Surviving Katrina and Its Aftermath: A Comparative Analysis of Community Mobilization and Access to Emergency Relief by Vietnamese Americans and African Americans in an Eastern New Orleans Suburb. We are indebted to all participants for their time and insights. We acknowledge Dan Killoren for his assistance in preparing this essay and Michael Joseph Hradesky for assistance with the New Orleans map. We thank the JAH editors for their constructive suggestions. Any errors that remain are entirely ours.

Readers may contact Leong at karen dot leong at asu dot edu and Chen at angela dot ccchen at asu dot edu.

[1]U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder,; Mari Matsuda, “Looking to the Bottom: Critical Legal Studies and Reparations,” Harvard Civil Rights–Civil Liberties Law Review, 22 (Spring 1987), 322–99; Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (New York, 1989), 474–84. On the model-minority myth in the context of Hurricane Katrina, see Eric Tang, “Boat People,” ColorLines Magazine, 32 (Spring 2006),

[2] Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, “Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century,” in Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization, ed. Arnold R. Hirsch and Joseph Logsdon (Baton Rouge, 1992), 58–87, esp. 59. The U.S. census for 2000 listed nearly 40,000 Hispanics in New Orleans alone prior to Katrina; see Grace Kao, “Where Are the Asian and Hispanic Victims of Katrina? A Metaphor for Invisible Communities of Color in Contemporary Racial Discourse,” DuBois Review, 3 (March 2006), 223–31, esp. 223–25.

[3] “Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon,” exhibition, Jan. 19–March 31, 2007, Vietnamese American Heritage Project, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program, Concourse Gallery (S. Dillon Ripley Center, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.); Christopher A. Airriess and David L. Clawson, “Versailles: A Vietnamese Enclave in New Orleans, Louisiana,” Journal of Cultural Geography, 12 (no. 1, 1991), 1–13, esp. 3; Min Zhou and Carl L. Bankston III, Growing Up American: How Vietnamese Children Adapt to Life in the United States (New York, 1998), 78.

[4] Carl L. Bankston III, “Vietnamese American Catholicism: Transplanted and Flourishing,” U.S. Catholic Historian, 18 (Winter 2000), 36–53, esp. 46. By 1990 the Vietnamese American rate of homeownership was above 37%. See Carl L. Bankston III and Min Zhou, “De Facto Congregationalism and Socieoconomic Mobility in Laotian and Vietnamese Immigrant Communities: A Study of Religious Institutions and Economic Change,” Review of Religious Research, 41 (June 2000), 453–70, esp. 459. On poverty rates among African Americans and Vietnamese Americans in Louisiana, see Wei Li et al., “Katrina and Migration: Evacuation and Return in an Eastern New Orleans Suburb by African Americans and Vietnamese Americans,” paper delivered at the conference “Disaster and Migration: Hurricane Katrina’s Effects on New Orleans’s Population,” Tulane University, April 2007 (in Wei Li’s possession), 5–7; Christopher A. Airriess, “Creating Vietnamese Landscapes and Place in New Orleans,” in Geographical Identities of Ethnic America: Race, Space, and Place, ed. Kate A. Berry and Martha L. Henderson (Reno, 2002), 228–54. The median house value for Vietnamese households in New Orleans East can be found at U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder, On early interaction between African Americans and Vietnamese Americans in New Orleans, see Rawlein Soberano, “The Vietnamese of New Orleans: Problems of America’s Newest Immigrants,” 1978, ed173525 (microfiche), eric Clearinghouse (Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, N. Y.).

[5]U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder, In addition to finding higher rents and fewer rental units than pre-Katrina, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center in a post-Katrina rental study conducted between September 2006 and April 2007 “found a 57.5% rate of discrimination in metro New Orleans rental housing searches” for African Americans. “For Rent Unless You’re Black: An Audit Report on Race Discrimination in the Greater New Orleans Metropolitan Rental Market,” 2007, Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center,; Father The Vien Nguyen interview by Wei Li, Dec. 5, 2005, notes (in Li’s possession); Wei Li, Feb. 5, 2006, field notes, Mary Queen of Vietnam Church, New Orleans, Louisiana, ibid.

[6] See, for example, “Hurricane Katrina One Year Later,” INSIGHT (cnn International, Aug. 29, 2006); “Katrina through a Different Lens” (cnn, Sept. 13, 2005),; “New Orleans Residents Protest Landfill Site,” Associated Press, April 7, 2006; Greg Allen, “In New Orleans, Versailles Resurfaces,” All Things Considered (npr, March 27, 2007),; Cheryl Corley, “Immigrant Neighborhood Fights Dump” (npr, May 12, 2006),; Leslie Eaton, “New Orleans Debris Fuels a Political and Ethnic Fight,” New York Times, May 8, 2006, p. A1; Christine Hauser, “Sustained by Close Ties, Vietnamese Toil to Rebuild,” ibid., Oct. 20, 2005, p. A22; John King, “Keeping Them Honest,” Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees (cnn, Dec. 16, 2005),; Martin Savidge, “East New Orleans’ Unshakeable History: Residents Vow to Return to Obliterated Communities,” nbc Nightly News (nbc, Nov. 4, 2005); and David Shaftel, “The Ninth Re-Ward: The Vietnamese Community Rebuilds after Katrina,” Village Voice, Dec. 27, 2006,

[7] On the model-minority myth, see Sucheng Chan, Asian Americans: An Interpretive History (New York, 1991), 167–69. For online discussions of Vietnamese Americans in New Orleans East, see “Out of It, into It,” N.O. Way: A Blog from New Orleans, Feb. 6, 2007,; and post by Chauncey, May 16, 2005, Lance Hill, “The Miracle of Versailles: New Orleans Vietnamese American Community Rebuilds,” New Orleans Louisiana Weekly, Jan. 23, 2006; New Orleans Vietnamese Americans evacuees focus group interview by Karen J. Leong, March 18, 2006, transcript, p. 11 (in Karen J. Leong’s possession); New Orleans African American evacuees focus group interview by Christopher A. Airriess, June 24, 2006, transcript, p. 13, ibid.; Cynthia Nguyen and Thu Nguyen interview by Airriess, Angela Chia-Chen Chen, and Wei Li, Dec. 3, 2005, notes by Wei Li (in Li’s possession); Cynthia Nguyen interview by Airriess, Feb. 4, 2006, transcript, p. 7 (in Leong’s possession); Charles—— interview by Airriess, Feb. 4, 2006, transcript, pp. 6–7, ibid.

[8] For one take on the role of faith and immigrant experience in the Vietnamese community’s successful return, see Stone Phillips, “The Vietnamese-American Community Recovers after Katrina,” nbc Dateline (nbc, June 15, 2007).

[9] The Vien Nguyen interview by Leong et al., Nov. 5, 2006, notes (in Leong’s possession); Le-Thi-Que, A. Terry Rambo, and Gary D. Murfin, “Why They Fled: Refugee Movement during the Spring 1975 Communist Offensive in South Vietnam,” Asian Survey, 16 (no. 9, 1976), 855–63, esp. 859 and 863; Piero Gheddo, The Cross and the Bo-Tree: Catholics and Buddhists in Vietnam (New York, 1970), 15–19, 23, 30–40.

[10] Gheddo, Cross and the Bo-Tree, 58–59, 99; Nguyen Van Canh, Vietnam under Communism, 19751982 (Stanford, 1983), 164–65; Harry Haas and Bao Long Nguyen, Vietnam: The Other Conflict (London, 1971); Darrel Montero, Vietnamese Americans: Patterns of Resettlement and Socioeconomic Adaptation in the United States (Boulder, 1979), 24, 37.

[11] “Father Vien Nguyen, Interview with Charles Henry Rowell,” Callaloo, 29 (no. 4, 2006), 1071–81, esp. 1080–81; Airriess, “Creating Vietnamese Landscapes and Place in New Orleans”; Bankston, “Vietnamese American Catholicism,” 47.

[12] Dorothy Vidulich, “Religion Central for Vietnamese in us,” National Catholic Reporter, Oct. 14, 1994, pp. 12–13, esp. 13; The Vien Nguyen interview by Leong et al.; Bankston, “Vietnamese American Catholicism,” 50. The church-centered council is similar to other immigrant associations like mutualistas (mutual aid, or friendly, societies). Airriess and Clawson, “Versailles,” esp. 5–6; Airriess, “Creating Vietnamese Landscapes and Place in New Orleans.”

[13] Karen J. Leong, Nov. 5, 2006, field notes, New Orleans, Louisiana (in Leong’s possession); “Father Vien Nguyen, Interview with Charles Henry Rowell,” 1076–77.

[14] New Orleans Vietnamese American evacuees focus group interview, p. 11. Journalists reported similar responses from Vietnamese American community members. On the role of refugee experience in shaping a collective identity, see Zhou and Bankston, Growing Up American, 232.

[15] Cynthia Nguyen interview, p. 7. With the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, the federal government provided short-term assistance in the form of food stamps and Social Security benefits. Refugee Act, 94 Stat. 102 (1980).

[16] Leong, Nov. 5, 2006, field notes; Sara Catania, “From Fish Sauce to Salsa—New Orleans Vietnamese Adapt to Influx of Latinos,” New American Media, Oct. 16, 2006,; The Vien Nguyen interview by Li, April 14, 2007, notes (in Li’s possession).

[17] Momo Chang, “East Bay Volunteer Swept Up in Storm Relief,” Oakland Tribune, Nov. 16, 2005, On nbc Dateline a couple of African American homeowners in Village de L’Est credited the Vietnamese American community with leading the rebuilding of the neighborhood. See Phillips, “Vietnamese-American Community Recovers after Katrina.” New Orleans African American evacuees focus group interview, pp. 10–11; The Vien Nguyen interview by Li, April 14, 2007.

[18] Hauser, “Sustained by Close Ties, Vietnamese Toil to Rebuild”; April Capochino, “Why Stay? Vietnam Evacuee Helps Displaced New Orleanians Find the Answer,” New Orleans CityBusiness, July 3, 2006,; Brendan McCarthy, “Riley Tries to Reassure Vietnamese Community: Shootings Strike Fear into Neighborhood,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, Aug. 16, 2007,; Brendan McCarthy, “Gunmen Kill Two in Home Invasion: Five Others Hurt in Attack in Reeling Eastern N.O.,” ibid., Aug. 26, 2007,