Unheard Victims of the Gulf Coast Oil Spill

Signs selling shrimp in the Gulf Coast region are in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

The Gulf Coast region is home to thousands of Vietnamese-Americans, many of whom rely on the Gulf Coast for their livelihood. They are fishermen, who have made a new life for themselves and their families in Louisiana and New Orleans. For many of them, the BP oil spill, which has spilled millions of gallons of crude oil into the waters of the Gulf has been devastating. Yet, these Vietnamese-American fishermen — who make one-third of all Gulf Coast fishermen — have been virtually unheard in the media coverage of the oil spill.

Today, CNN did a cover story on their plight. Here’s an excerpt, covering some of the unique challenges facing Gulf Coast Vietnamese-Americans:

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.”

Read the full article here (ignoring the cliched headline): Vietnamese fishermen in Gulf fight to not get lost in translation.

I am saddened by the story of these fishermen, yet am glad to see their narratives finally being told. Is anyone aware of non-profit organizations or charities that are involved in helping Vietnamese-American communities in the Gulf Coast through the oil spill disaster?

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