Here in New Orleans, we have one of the largest Vietnamese communities in the US, although few non-Vietnamese enter it. Centered in New Orleans East, it started as a refugee settlement of 2 North Vietnamese fishing villages that had resettled in South Vietnam after the Communist takeover. Those villages then left Vietnam after the fall of Saigon and were brought to New Orleans from refugee camps by Archbishop Hannan in the mid 1970s.
The largely Catholic community (the Buddhist Vietnamese community is mostly settled on the West Bank of New Orleans) runs the gamut of socio-economic statuses from low-income rentals to middle class stability all of the way to large homes in cul-de-sacs. They even have a traditional market on Saturday mornings from 6 am til 8 or so, with elders squatting behind their produce, arranged on blankets or bamboo mats on the ground with the church holding a place of honor in the middle of it all.
New Orleans East was hammered hard by Katrina, both with high winds and water. It is surrounded by water and therefore although a perfect home for the fishers who dock their boat at their door or at a commercial dock down the street, it is a cruel place during storms. Of course,the rebuilding was difficult and without a major fundraising and political push from the activist priest of the church Father Vien, the area would not have rebounded so quickly. Interestingly, Father Vien is no longer in the parish; some rumor that he was removed for too much media attention while fighting (what he called) BP’s paltry settlements that did little to rebuild the fishing communities after it was destroyed by the spill.
In any case, the community HAS rebounded and seeing it during Tet festivities is always a treat. If you get a chance to come to New Orleans, ask me the way to Alcee Fortier Blvd. so you can see the village for yourself..
Until then, here is a short video (featuring the aforementioned Father Vien) that I did while working at MarketUmbrella that tells some of the Vietnamese history in New Orleans:
Tet New Year Festival starts Friday at Mary Queen of Vietnam church | NOLA.com.