Did the first Vietnamese who came to New Orleans and settled in the East or on the West Bank come from different areas or social classes in Vietnam?
In 1954, thousands of Northern Vietnamese citizens migrated to South Vietnam to escape Communist control. Many of these people settled in coastal communities, where they practiced farming and fishing. The Vietnam War began in 1955 and continued for two decades, ending on April 30, 1975, when the Viet Cong captured the South Vietnam capital, Saigon. Once the U.S. military withdrew from Vietnam, instability and violence ensued. The new government confiscated businesses and land, prompting thousands to flee.
The first refugees were ex-military or government officials and their families, who were transported to four military forts in Arkansas, California, Florida and Pennsylvania. The next wave consisted of thousands of so-called "boat people," who fled South Vietnam in boats, landing in refugee camps in nearby countries, including the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The U.S. helped relocate these refugees as well.
As a humanitarian effort and to increase the number of Catholic parishioners in the New Orleans area, then-Archbishop of New Orleans Philip Hannan sponsored 1,000 Vietnamese families who had been sent to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. Half of them were housed at Versailles Arms Apartments in New Orleans East and the other half went to the Kingstown Marrero Apartments on the West Bank.
These Vietnamese communities grew as settlers wrote their families in Vietnam about similarities between New Orleans and their homeland, including a subtropical climate and proximity to a large river. Today, local Vietnamese communities are found in eastern New Orleans, Algiers and Avondale. Members of all the communities originally came from various religions, classes and educational backgrounds, but with the influence of the Catholic Church, the majority became Catholic.