In 2006, following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, New Orleans was a ghost town. In the 9th Ward, houses stood empty as the families who had lived in them for generations fled, were rescued from, or were lost in the surge of water as it breached the levees.
Following the 1975 Fall of Saigon, thousands of Vietnamese refugees settled throughout the United States. Here in the Pacific Northwest it was a tough process to find homes. In New Orleans; the story was no different. In the Parish of Versailles, the Vietnamese took to fishing, shrimping and other industries in the region. The communities they built up relied heavily on community cohesion and creating systems of support.
Following the Hurricanes, Versailles, also affected by the storm surge that hit the 9th Ward, looked considerably different. As the news reports warned of a coming catastrophe, the community stayed put and protected each other rather than evacuate.
On a torridly humid, sweaty March afternoon, a group of African American leaders sat down, most for the first time, in the backyard of their Vietnamese American neighbors and shared in the most aromatic meal that combined Vietnamese spicing with traditional and famous dishes made famous by the legends of New Orleans cuisine. On the table was:
A pot of Gumbo ‘liquor’: This is the excess liquid from the actual gumbo pot that is rich with the flavors of crawfish, shrimp, cayenne peppers and file’.
A Shrimp boil: Infused with anise, black pepper, Zatarain’s seafood seasoning, garlic, potatoes and corn and dumped onto the table atop newspaper.
Bunh: Cold rice noodles topped with crawfish, cilantro, pickled radish and peanuts.
For everyone at the table it was everything they knew, and a world of things they had never considered. The afternoon was spent sharing their experiences in trying to rebuild, sharing skills and knowledge about how to do it.
Food is often the first way to try and connect students to other cultures. How likely are they to connect food to the richness of their own culture?
Here is the story of Anh Luu, a chef who has taken this melding of flavors and created her own take on the cuisine.
Questions we can ask of our students:
- How do we expect to see Americans of different ethnic backgrounds adopt or incorporate aspects of an “Americanized” lifestyle?
- What styles of cuisine are combined in Anh’s cooking?
- How does Anh describe herself; her identity; connection with family?
- What is the importance of hearing Anh describe her own experience?