By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
September 3, 2007
This is a story about people facing challenges and those ready, willing and able to turn a disaster into just one more hurdle in life.
Two years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina we have an opportunity to look at how the victims and displaced responded in a crisis.
A Vietnamese-American friend who lives in New Orleans said to me: “Mother fled North Vietnam when the communists pushed out the French in 1954. She walked to South Vietnam and lived for a year in a refugee camp. In 1975 she was living in Saigon when the communists captured that city. The economy failed and she and almost all of the people of Saigon were sent into the rice fields to grow food. She called this ‘the second leaving.'”
“My grandfather knew near starvation under the rule of the Japanese invaders during World war II,” she said. “So our family and many Vietnamese know hardship face to face.”
“After Mother fled the communists in 1975 and worked the fields, she had to smuggle cocaine to feed the family. She made a plan to flee the communists a third time. On August 12, 1982, she made it to the U.S.A. after an arduous journey.”
“When hurricane Katrina destroyed my home and seafood processing business, I had no second thoughts about rebuilding. This is the home of my Mother’s grand children.”
My friend is named Nga and she represents the faith and determination many in New Orleans and the surrounding Hurricane Katrina ravaged Gulf Coast.
My Vietnamese-born wife, herself a former refugee, calls those Vietnamese who lived through the Japanese occupation, the flight from the communists in the North in 1954, the flight from Saigon in 1975 and the ultimate fleeing from their home country “survivors.”
Nga finished with: “My Mom and all our ancestors went through more than we can ever know. After Katrina was no time for my family to surrender to a storm.”
But many did “surrender to a storm” as my Vietnamese-American friend said. This happens in any crisis.
Tulane University professor Richard Campanella has been watching New Orleans and its population’s make up for years. What he says about the population of Katrina reinforces what Nga told me.
Asians are staying. Many have already rebuilt their homes and businesses. Help came from Vietnamese-American communities across America. And many “Viet Kiew,” those Vietnamese spread across the globe after the communists captured Saigon in 1975, sent money to their countrymen from Norway, Australia, Canada and elsewhere.
Professor Campanella says scores of Hispanics have copme to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to help rebuild. They came seeking high paying jobs that were tough: many worked on construction sites.
Many Hispanics say they will stay in New Orleans and several have opened businesses. The entreprenurial spirit lives.
The White population largely stayed in New Orleans too; and most rebuilt or are doing so now.
Before Katrina the population mix of New Orleans, according to professor Campanella, was 70 percent Black, some 28 percent White, and the rest were Asian or Spanish speaking people from Mexico and Central and South America.
Today, the Black population of New Orleans is down below 50 percent, Whites are just above 40 percent, the Asian community stayed in New Orleans and the surrounding area and the Hispanic population has surged to an all time high.
Jobs are still available in New Orleans but job growth is slowing.
“The suggestion in the data is clear,” said demographer Elliott Stonecipher. “We apparently are at a place where the post-storm employment recovery is peaking. It may have peaked.”
Where did the Black poluation go and why did they leave?
People who fled to Texas who agreed to be interviewed said the schools in Texas are better than those in New Orleans and New Orleans still has a troubled healthcare system.
Several hospitals in New Orleans have not reopened and those that have again resumed care face tough staffing shortages.
The Black population is up in Texas, Washington D.C. and other centers where Katrina victims congregated. Whether they return to New Orleans or not remains to be seen.
According to Professor Campanella, “Whether one sees these shifts as good or bad, they are complex and fascinating phenomena and we are in a really amazing place to be right now.”