Vietnamese Community Still Struggling After Katrina - - The News for South Mississippi

Vietnamese Community Still Struggling After Katrina

The aroma of Pho, a popular Vietnamese noodle soup dish, is tempting hungry customers back to East Biloxi. Dung Trinh opened Pho 777 Noodle House on Oak Street in August, exactly a year after Katrina crushed the Vietnamese community.

"I took a risk, because there are still some Vietnamese families here, and there are very few restaurants around," Dung Trinh says. "Many American restaurants got blown away by Katrina. So I wanted to find a small place to feed the neighbors and construction workers."

Across the street, Dong Nai Oriental Market is also new to the neighborhood. James Bui is meeting with the owners, and keeping track of every new Asian business that opens on the Point.

Bui is a Gulf Coast representative of NAVASA, an organization that has been on the ground since the storm, helping Vietnamese-Americans rebuild their lives. He hears from many frustrated business owners, who are wondering why many families aren't building back. Bui points to many challenges, including uncertainty about the city's development plans, lack of insurance and grant money, and then there's the language barrier.

"It's really difficult," James Bui says. "Not only are you Katrina victims, you have just a lack of access to resources like everyone else. But you're even farther behind the line because the language access, the cultural incompetency on both ends."

It wasn't the business climate that lured many Vietnamese families to South Mississippi. It was the seafood industry. What an ironic twist of fate. The same body of water that sustained those families for decades, on August 29th, shattered their livelihood.

About 70% of Vietnamese shrimpers lost their boats, including Anh Nguyen of North Biloxi.

"Before the storm, I had three boats," Anh Nguyen says. "One boat disappeared somewhere. This one is damaged on the side, and I was able to fix another boat."

Nguyen doesn't have enough money to finish repairing his boat "Last Chance", but he's not giving up.

"Some of us have no choice. This is our life," Nguyen says. "Some people have sold their boats and worked on shore, like at casinos. But as long as we have our boats, we'll continue working."

Besides work, faith is also pulling people back to the area. Many families, now scattered across South Mississippi, come to Biloxi every week to worship.

And the heart of the Vietnamese community is still beating. This Fall, the organization "Boat People SOS" hosted the Harvest Moon Festival at the Town Green to lift everybody's spirits.

"It's an occasion to celebrate a bountiful harvest, and also to celebrate community, life, families," says Dr. Thang Nguyen, Executive Director of Boat People SOS.

Another goal was to spread the word that the Asian culture and heritage will live on.

"This is their home. Many people are rooted in this community. They have been temporarily displaced," says Nguyen. "This is one of the signals we want to send out. This is the time to come back. And if they come back, maybe they can start the momentum of rebuilding the community."

That momentum is starting to heat up, because of people like Dung Trinh. Her Vietnamese cuisine is drawing so many diners back to the Point, just days ago, her restaurant got a permit to expand.

"I'm hoping the people will come back," Trinh says. "So we'll have more life around here. So it will be a happier place."

According to NAVASA, there are other issues blocking the return of many Vietnamese families to East Biloxi, including the shortage of rental property and affordable housing.

By: Trang Pham-Bui

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