VENICE, Louisiana (AFP) – The son of an American soldier and a Vietnamese woman, Minh Ly found freedom on the fishing boats of Louisiana where nobody judged him for his broken English or mixed heritage.
But with huge swaths of the Gulf of Mexico closed to fishing in the wake of a massive oil slick gushing out of the wreckage of an offshore rig, Ly is afraid of what the future will hold.
Like his friends who work out of the port town of Venice, Ly has signed up for cleanup work. He doesn’t know what he’ll do if he can’t get any.
“Maybe get some food stamps,” he said as he stared at the idled boats floating in the dock.
Many of the Vietnamese fishermen here are fearful they will be overlooked when the lucrative cleanup jobs are handed out, especially those who don’t speak much English.
Their worries stem from a history of tensions with white fishermen.
The influx of Vietnamese refugees in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s coincided with a period of poor shrimp seasons in the Gulf, and many fishermen felt their livelihoods were being threatened.
Complicating matters was that the Vietnamese spoke little English and did not understand all of the local rules or customs, like turning their boat lights on in certain waters.
Bumper stickers that read “Save Your Shrimp Industry – Get Rid of Vietnamese” started to appear on cars along the coast, according to Mississippi Folklore Register.
The Ku Klux Klan staged demonstrations calling for blood and American fishermen started carrying guns on their boats.
An undetonated bomb was found on a Vietnamese boat in Biloxi and many boats were sabotaged and nets were shot off. A Vietnamese man killed a Texas man in self-defense.
Those tensions eased as the shrimp stocks returned and the Vietnamese adjusted to local customs, even joining local associations.
Ly said he has had no trouble with white fishermen. Things were much worse for him in Vietnam.
“Guy who look like me can’t read because can’t go to school,” Ly said.
“I go to school, they beat me up… say go back to your country.”
Ly and his mother moved to the United States in 1985 when he was 15 years old. They lived in Arizona for a while, and then moved to coastal Louisiana to join the bustling Vietnamese community which now totals about 25,000 people.
His mother died in 1993. His captain and shipmates are his family now. They would spend two weeks at a time trolling for shrimp in the Gulf.
It’s hard work, but a good life, he said.
“You have fresh air. You’re working hard. You have power.”
If you would like to explorer more about Vietnamese and travel you can check out the Vietnam Travel Topic by Tho Dia