Monday, February 06, 2006

Year of the Dog

New Orleans East was a weird place even before the storm, a huge swath of filled in swampland stretching eastward along Lake Ponchatrain for miles, stretched out like an arm from the city-center. It only developed in recent decades, and much of it is still empty swampland. Though technically part of the City of New Orleans it feels decidedly un-urban.

And Little Vietnam was always one of the strangest places in this strange suburb, a cluster of development almost 10 miles away from the city center: a handful of shopping malls, surrounded by a few residential streets with lowslung, brick ranch houses, all populated by Vietnamese immigrants and their children, centered around the Vietnamese Catholic Church that was instrumental in bringing many of the immigrants over.

Now, after the storm, Little Vietnam is certainly one of the weirdest places on Earth, an island of rapid revitalization amidst miles and miles of grey wasteland. And this weekend, amazingly, they held their New Year's celebration. We went.

After driving for twenty minutes past blasted out subdivisions and shopping centers, we rounded a corner and were suddenly confronted with overwhelming life. We parked, and entered the church compound. There were booths set up with all sorts of activities: games, stands with trashy knick-knacks, an "Acupuncture Disaster Relief Team" carefully inserting needles into the ears of elderly Vietnamese nuns and other festival goers. A cheesy, Anglo cover band blasted bad renditions of "Mustang Sally" and "Proud Mary."

We came to see the sights, but more than anything we came to eat. I got us all big bowls of Pho Bo (beef and noodle soup). As we looked for a place to sit, a large family waved us over and gestured next to them. They were incredibly friendly. They gave us fried bananas and water. We, in turn gave them boiled duck fetuses (fetui?) that I had bought for the girls under the misguided impression that they were conventional boiled eggs.

The father and I got into a lengthy conversation about many things including soup preparation, advantageous qualities in wives, and, eventually, the rebuilding of his community:
We learned this from our parents and our grandparents. We ran from the North to the South and lost everything. We ran from the South to America and lost everything. This time we run from Katrina and lose everything. But this time is easier. This time we had a little help from the government. Before we had no help. We had to do it all ourselves.
I tell you, there 's nothing like talking with people who have really been through hell to give a bit of perspective. These are dark days for our city. The obstacles to recovery continue to mount. But people have been through worse and survived. We can't forget it.

1 comment:

  1. Right on with the thought that people have been through a lot worse and keep coming back.