In the Institute for Southern Studies' recent report Faith in the Gulf and in our past reports, such as One Year After Katrina, we've talked with Vietnamese leaders in New Orleans East and have documented the remarkable stories of the 9,000-strong Vietnamese-American community of Versailles in their efforts to rebuild post-Katrina and to find a political voice.
Filmmaker S. Leo Chiang captures the inspiring rebuilding of the Vietnamese American community in post-Katrina New Orleans East in his new documentary A Village Called Versailles. He is currently completing a feature-length version of the film, but PBS' Frontline/World has posted a 15-minute online version through its Rough Cut series here.
Versailles, home to one of the densest ethnically Vietnamese populations outside of Vietnam, was severely impacted by Hurricane Katrina. But the community came together to rebuild and to fight for a political voice.
From the Frontline/World report:
Like the rest of New Orleans, Versailles was devastated in the fall of 2005 by Hurricane Katrina and the floods that followed. Many Vietnamese Americans in New Orleans East were evacuated and dispersed. But despite all of the difficulties they faced, the community, led by Pastor Vien Nguyen of the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church, refused another forced exile. "There has been a switch," Father Vien says. "Before Katrina, home was Vietnam. After Katrina, home is here."
Armed with this new sense of belonging, the Versailles Vietnamese returned just six weeks after Katrina to begin rebuilding. By January 2006, more than half the community had returned, and the rest of the City began to take notice.
Ironically, it was the flood and its aftermath that catalyzed the transformation of Versailles from an isolated refugee community into an integral part of New Orleans. Besides the work of community leaders such as Father Vien, Vietnamese-American activists began arriving from elsewhere in the country after Katrina to work with community members toward the goal of gaining a unified political voice for the previously ignored Versailles community. Soon after, they found a common enemy in the Chef Menteur Landfill.
Only through this struggle to rebuild their community and to make their voices heard have the Vietnamese American residents in Versailles finally learned the tools of democracy and ultimately claimed their American identity.
Frontline/World's Rough Cut, a regular series of online video reports from around the globe, won two Webby awards in 2008. For more Rough Cut online videos, visit here. For more information on filmmaker S. Leo Chiang visit Walking Iris Films.