Non-English-Speaking Vietnamese Struggle in the Gulf Disaster
June 30, 2010, 05:01 PM
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Reporters must be getting bored with avoiding Obama’s failure to act in the Gulf oil explosion, since they are turning to the ethnic angle, with plenty of boo-hooey and suffering angst. It also happens that the MSM notice the diversity slant when there’s a big crime story or other large event. Or perhaps some ethno-org sent out a press release to inform the press and public of their tribe’s misery.

A couple stories about Vietnamese in the Gulf turned up in the last few days from major news ops, one being the Washington Post (Vietnamese shrimpers face financial ruin after oil spill) with an artsy photo gallery of a couple dozen pictures.

One interesting fact: after 35 years when they came to this country as refugees, many of the Viet shrimpers speak �little English.� That incapacity has created problems within the current oil emergency because the Vietnamese cannot negotiate benefits without a translator.

Neither the Post nor CNN (below) mentioned much about the history of refugees from Washington’s failed Vietnam war being dumped on unwilling communities. Many thousands ended up on the Gulf Coast to compete against American fishermen in an industry that is not the most dependably profitable to begin with. It didn’t help that the Vietnamese did not respect the locals’ fishing traditions, and violence occurred. But now the press sees the Vietnamese as pitiable victims who somehow forgot to learn English.

Communication has been difficult, no doubt about it.

Vietnamese fishermen in Gulf fight to not get lost in translation, CNN, June 24, 2010

New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) — The lengthy documents they initially were asked to sign used language even a native English speaker would struggle to understand.

The Vietnamese interpreters BP first brought in for safety and cleanup training stirred painful memories and suspicions because they spoke to the elders with a North Vietnamese dialect and used what some described as �Communist terminology.�

The closings of fishing areas have been announced on radio stations these fishermen don’t follow, so some have piloted their boats where they shouldn’t, which means tickets from the Coast Guard keep coming.

For the Vietnamese-Americans living in the Gulf Coast region, the oil disaster is especially complicated. It’s made murky by language barriers, cultural misunderstandings and a history of challenges that have shaped them for more than half a century.

Their ties to seafood run deep and wide. A third of all fishermen in the Gulf are Vietnamese, making them arguably the most affected minority out there. More than 24,000 people of Vietnamese origin live in Louisiana, according to the last completed census. About 6,000 live within a two-mile radius in the neighborhood of New Orleans East — distinguishing it, the area’s priest says, as the greatest concentration of Vietnamese people outside of Vietnam.

In the rectory of Mary Queen of Vietnam Church, the Rev. Vien Nguyen sits in front of an altar to his ancestors and his Catholic faith. Religious texts in English and his native tongue fill the high shelves around him, as do books bearing titles like �Freshwater Crayfish Aquaculture,� �The Evolution of Cajun & Creole Cuisine� and Franz Kafka’s �The Trial.�

Here, he introduces some of the Kafkaesque oil-disaster trials facing his own people.

He talks about their distrust of lawyers — �sharks,� he calls them — who’ve come in from out of state, circling them with promises and confusing papers. He mentions the mental health concerns — depression, lack of sleep, tensions in homes — that need to be addressed, a task made difficult by an absence of Vietnamese-speaking therapists in a community that still stigmatizes admissions of emotional trouble. He worries about the lack of job training and opportunities for a people who’ve worked in an industry that may suffer for God knows how long.

�These are proud, active people who contribute to their own livelihood, and now they have to be in lines,� asking for handouts, he says. �It is a devastating blow.�

About 80 percent of Vietnamese-Americans in the Gulf region are connected to the seafood industry through jobs that include fishing, shucking oysters, packing shrimp, and running stores and restaurants, the priest and others say.

The work they do is something many brought with them from fishing villages in their native land, a place most of them fled as �boat people� after the 1975 fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War. That departure was for many the second time they’d become refugees. They’d already uprooted themselves and started over with nothing in 1954, when their country divided into North and South and they, as the Catholic minority living in Vietnam, ran from the Communist rule that took over the North.

The former Archbishop Philip Hannan of the Archdiocese of New Orleans reached out to them in refugee camps in America, inviting them to call his home theirs. So they came here in the ’70s and ’80s with the help of Catholic Charities and, over the next 30 years, reinvented their lives once more — in a climate reminiscent of the country they’d left behind.

Catholic Charities is always generous with taxpayer money to create �resettlement� without assimilation to American culture, which to Catholic elites may mean less connection to the church which must be obeyed.
They worked hard in a familiar industry that didn’t require them to master English, often leaving their children to be cared for by older siblings and relatives so they could put in long days. They created a self-reliant community where their own local businesses thrived. They planted acres of vegetable gardens along levees, incorporating the agricultural roots of their ancestors.

Today, people wearing the traditional conical straw hats stoop in their cultivated yards or walk along streets with names like Saigon Drive. A trailer, lined with coolers of freshly caught shrimp for sale at hiked-up prices, is parked in front of a strip mall that includes Tram Anh Video, Kim Tram Jewelry and Tien Pharmacy.

Hurricane Katrina five years ago marked the third time they lost everything and had to start over. But it was also the storm that gave them a voice.

The documentary �A Village Called Versailles� — a reference to the public housing project where they first settled — debuted on PBS last month. It chronicles how the Vietnamese-Americans living in New Orleans East galvanized after Katrina, making theirs among the first neighborhoods to rebuild.

The film trailer applauds the V-tribe’s �empowerment� in the leftist style by chanting �no justice, no peace� and maintaining their own customs rather than assimilating: