Vietnamese refugees protect our neighborhoods – World Refugee Day 2018

Vietnamese refugees


New Orleans, Louisiana  – for World Refugee Day, a filmmaker and photographer honors senior Vietnamese refugees taking a stand for neighborhoods in New Orleans.

After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, Archbishop Philip M. Hannan and the Catholic Church sponsored 2,100 Vietnamese refugees to resettle in New Orleans. The city’s Vietnamese population has since grown to approximately 15,000, and its influence is evident throughout the city – from Vietnamese translations on parking meters to its award-winning Vietnamese restaurants and bakeries. But the growth of this community did not come without extreme hardships that extended long after fleeing war.

Less than one year after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, many residents of New Orleans East had already returned to their homes. As they began rebuilding their houses, they heard the city had a different plan for their neighborhood. The furthermost part of the East – the  Michoud area – would become a landfill. It would serve as dumping grounds for wreckage left by Katrina.

Environmental groups joined thousands of Vietnamese refugees and other residents of the East to protest this plan. Facing pressure from New Orleanians, the city ceased dumping debris there in August 2006. It was a massive victory for all residents of the East, who went back to work rebuilding their neighborhood over the next decade.

Today, this community is facing a new problem: the building of a gas-powered Entergy plant is being planned in a high-risk flood zone less than two miles from residential neighborhoods in The East. They worry about the potential hazards of this plant, and those of the additional industry it will invite to their neighborhood.

Like they did years before with the landfill, the community of Vietnamese refugees has banded together with neighbors of all backgrounds to fight this plant. Minh Nguyen, the Founder and Director of community-based advocacy organization VAYLA New Orleans, testified on behalf of his community to New Orleans City Council. “We fought for our existence after Hurricane Katrina. We fought the landfill. We’re going to fight this as well.”

Hundreds of Vietnamese elders and their families organized and attended New Orleans City Council meetings to speak out against Entergy’s proposed plant. Though the battle is ongoing, one thing is certain: New Orleanians of Vietnamese descent demand to be heard, and they will continue to use their voices to advocate for themselves and their neighbors. They are proof that when refugees are empowered, they can improve entire neighborhoods, cities, and beyond.

Refugees shaking hands

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World Refugee Day 2018

This month, to celebrate World Refugee Day on June 20, US-born Americans across the United States honor newcomer Americans with a story from their state – a story of a refugee, asylee, or immigrant they admire. From soldiers to politicians, employers to students, social workers to business people – everyday Americans tell their stories to celebrate the goodness and courage of the newcomers who make the United States a better place.

Every day in the month of June, the Refugee Center Online will publish a new story from a different state. Check back for new stories each day:

Learn more about World Refugee Day. All across the country, there will be events celebrating World Refugee Day. Visit this map to find an event in your community.

About Christiana Botic
Christiana Botic is a documentary photographer and filmmaker as well as a 2016-2017 Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow. Her work tells stories about how the movement of people impacts modern cultural landscapes. She splits her time between Louisiana and the Balkans.