From my research, I saw a link leading me to a video called “A Village Called Versailles” which was produced and directed by S. Leo Chiang. Just watching the 15-minute preview got me interested in the community. Seeing on how the community was the first ones back to New Orleans East. They did not wait for FEMA or any Government help. They came back and started rebuilding as a community.
After watching the video, I started contacting the people who were involved with the rebuilding of there community. I contacted Mary Tran who is the Executive Director for the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation. MQVNCDC started up right after Hurricane Katrina, and got the community together to rebuild. The other person I tried to contact was Father Vien, who is the head priest at the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church, as well as a board member of the MQVNCDC.
Once I arrived in New Orleans I contacted Mary to tell her I was in town and will be meeting with her the next day. The second day I arrived at MQVNCDC, where a few youth group members greeted me. I was a little early for the meeting so, I sat around watching and observing what people were doing around me. While I was sitting around and taking photographs, Father Vien walked in. I never got a hold of Father Vien when I was back in Minneapolis, but Mary introduced us when she came in right after him. Mary showed me around Versailles and I was really surprised that all the houses were fixed and no FEMA trailers were in sight. Mary had a comment that got me laughing and that was “the houses with either a Honda or Toyota were Vietnamese”, so I just chuckled, as it’s the same here but not just in the Vietnamese community but the Asian-American community in Minneapolis. We got back to the MQVNCDC and I did a little interview with her, where she said that Versailles got its name from the Versailles Arms apartments. The apartments were where the Vietnamese refugees were placed. Father Vien invited me to have lunch with him. Mary brought me over to the church and I met Kari Lydersen who is a correspondent for the Washington Post in Chicago, who was interviewing Father Vien as well. Just sitting eating lunch and hearing the stories of the past and present from Father Vien was very insightful. One statement from Father Vien wowed me, he said, “Versailles is the most condensed Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam”. I never knew that, as from being in Minneapolis the population here is spread out and not in one specific location.
The next day I came back to the Versailles to photograph the church as well as the entryway to the Mary Queen of Vietnam Field. The field is now being rebuilt with a football field, basketball court and volleyball courts for the youth. The field had tournaments and events to keep the youth off the streets before Katrina, but after Katrina the field was converted to house 199 FEMA trailers. Now that the trailers are gone, they are rebuilding it to keep the youth active, show teamwork and to keep them off the streets and causing trouble.
The next place I visited was VAYLA-NO (Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans). I met up with John Nguyen who is the Youth Organizer and we talked for a bit and took a few photographs of the center. Seeing that the community cares for its youth is a great sight to see.
I came back to VAYLA-NO on Friday night to hangout with the group and as well to photograph them in their activities. Being there, seeing how the volunteers and group leaders steer the youth in the right direction was a learning experience.
Being in New Orleans East for a week was a learning experience. Seeing the community come together and helping one another to rebuild will never be a forgetting memory. This was there 2nd time rebuilding; the first time was when they arrived in the United States.