Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Asian Americans and Hurricane Katrina

Although not well-publicized in the media, thousands of Asian Americans, most of them Vietnamese, were adversely affected by Hurricane Katrina. The Asian American Justice Center has accumulated a great list of reports and links to resources on Hurricane Katrina: http://www.advancingequality.org/?id=233.

Here is an excerpt from the Asian American Justice Center's "An Informal Report: Current Challenges Faced by Asian Americans and Hurricane Katrina: Highlights on Language Services and Physical and Mental Concerns," presented by Juliet Choi (

"Background: Demographics and Community

Prior to Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana was home to over 50,000 Asian Americans, of which more than half were Vietnamese. New Orleans, steeped in a rich and multicultural heritage, was home to the oldest Filipino community in the nation. Southern Mississippi was home to about 7,000 Vietnamese and other Asian residents. Many lived in the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina and in places such as Bayou La Batre, Alabama, Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Gulfport, Mississippi. To date, an estimated 10,000 Vietnamese evacuees relocated to Houston. Katrina also affected Chinese, Filipino, Bangladeshi and Korean Americans.

Many of the Asian Americans in the Gulf coast region hit by Katrina are, or were, shrimpers and fishermen, people who have made significant contributions to the local economy and fishing industry for years. Moreover, many of these Asian Americans are refugees and immigrants, people who have settled along the Gulf Coast after surviving war and political turmoil in their native countries. As stated in a recent Chicago Tribune article, 4 many of the Asian American hurricane victims are now refugees once again, having lost everything, facing language and cultural obstacles, leaving them isolated and unable to access or even understand the wide array of federal assistance programs widely available.

More specifically, a large part of this Asian American community is unaccustomed to the American way of accessing public assistance and navigating the intricacies and bureaucracies of public agencies. An added cultural dynamic to the refugee community not readily recognized is the fact that many of these individuals left a society where government and public agencies were almost never trusted and always feared. As a result, in times of need and crisis, Asian Americans, like in so many communities, typically turn first to their internal community groups where there is a sense of familiarity, where the same language is spoken and where similar cultural values and traditions are shared, and thus, some trust."