In Biloxi, the Vietnamese Community Struggles to Rebuild After Katrina

August 30, 2006

Source: San Jose Mercury News

On August 30, 2006 San Jose Mercury News reported, "'Pho 777 opening soon,' promises the banner at Howard and Oak streets. Restaurant owner Dung Trinh recently moved here from North Carolina, spotting opportunity in the fevered casino reconstruction along the hurricane-damaged waterfront. Workers, Trinh reasoned, need to eat. Hang Nguyen, who lives down the street, sees in the casinos a different kind of opportunity: perhaps they'll buy the land where his white FEMA trailer now sits. He says it's his best chance of getting a new house. And Henry Huong Le, whose family owns the San Jose, Calif.-based Lee's Sandwiches chain, predicts a building boom where owners of waterfront real estate - like himself - will prosper, while the fishing industry that first drew Vietnamese immigrants here sinks... In addition to wind and water, Hurricane Katrina blew mixed fortunes into Point Cadet, forever altering this community in eastern Biloxi where the bulk of Mississippi's 6,000 Vietnamese-Americans had lived since arriving as refugees in the 1970s. The storm crippled the seafood industry that employs many of the Vietnamese here, and the community faces daunting challenges as it tries to rebuild. Many don't have money to fix their boats or homes, and speculation abounds that their neighborhood, which is now in a redevelopment zone, will be dominated by casinos, condos and a new city park... The community built a Buddhist temple here, next to the Catholic Church of the Vietnamese Martyrs. The storm-damaged buildings have been repaired, and hundreds attend Sunday services. People say those buildings will keep drawing the Vietnamese back, even if fewer eventually live there. Many 'do want to stay, but they're feeling a lot of pressure,' said Uyen Le, with the National Alliance of Vietnamese American Service Agencies, a Maryland-based advocacy group. In community forums, a common refrain is that people don't have the resources to rebuild."