Escaping the incoming Communist regime at the end of the Vietnam War, many Vietnamese fled to America in the mid-1970s, and quite a large number settled in Louisiana. Recent figures put the New Orleans Vietnamese population at around 14,000, the largest, most vibrant Vietnamese community in the state.
Why New Orleans? For one, the sub-tropical climate and proximity to water appealed to many Vietnamese immigrants. Also, a large percentage of Vietnamese newcomers were Catholic, and both New Orleans and national Catholic charities were spearheading efforts to help new residents find jobs and housing in the city. Many Vietnamese settled in the newer, suburban parts of the city, particularly in New Orleans East but also in parts of Algiers, Avondale, and other places on the West Bank. As their local population grew, the Vietnamese community spread to other neighborhoods and began to revitalize these areas. Upon arriving, the immigrants took whatever work they could find, in factories, in the service industry, or by doing odd jobs. As they became more established, many opened small businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores, beauty and nail salons, and gift shops. Others moved to places like Grand Isle and Empire in Plaquemines Parish to help grow the fishing and shrimping trades.
The cohesiveness and resilience of New Orleans’ Vietnamese was proven after Hurricane Katrina decimated much of New Orleans East, including the large Vietnamese neighborhood called Versailles. The Vietnamese were among the first to return to begin rebuilding their neighborhoods, giving momentum to rebuilding efforts in the East and the rest of the city. Many Vietnamese feel the experience has brought the community even closer together.
The children of the first Vietnamese immigrants have grown up in New Orleans, attending local schools and universities, and continuing to help the city thrive. But all generations of the Vietnamese community remain bonded by language, shared experiences, and the close family ties valued by their culture, much of which they share with the rest of the city. Vietnamese restaurants abound throughout the metro area and have a devoted following.
The city also celebrates Tet Festival, or Vietnamese New Year, every year to enjoy the Lunar New Year and ancient traditions of Vietnamese heritage.