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The Vietnamese Population in Louisiana:

At the end of the twentieth century, the Vietnamese were by far the largest Asian group in Louisiana, and the nearly 25,000 Vietnamese made up  an estimated 44% of all Asians in the state. The Louisiana Vietnamese were most heavily concetrated in the New Orleans metropolitan area. Nearly 14,000 Vietnamese lived in Orleans Parish or in adjoining Jefferson Parish. Other parishes with relatively large Vietnamese populations (over 300 people) include East Baton Rouge (3,533), Vermilion (850), St. Mary (745), Terrebonne (504), Plaquemines (476), Lafourche (383), Caddo (377), Rapides (373), Iberia (314), and St. Bernard (302). At least a few Vietnamese people lived in every part of the state. 

Migration and Settlement:

The settlement of Vietnamese people on Louisiana began in the Spring of 1975, immediately after the fall of South Vietnam's capital, Saigon. The Cathoilc dioceses of Louisiana, operating within the U.S. Catholic Conference, were the state's primary volunteer agencies in charge of resettling Vietnamese refugees. One of these was in the New Orleans area and sought housing and sponsors in Orleans and Jefferson Parish. The other was in Houma and sought housing and sponsors in St. Mary, Terrebonne, and Lafourche Parishes.

Catholic refugee service workers placed Southeast Asians wherever sufficient housing and resources could be found. Thus, vacancies in an apartment complex in New Orleans East led to the establishment of a "Little Vietnam" near the Chef Menteur Highway. Vacant and inexpensive housing in the Kingstown area of Marrero resulted in the creation of one of the large Vietnamese neighborhoods in Jefferson parish.

Because of the involvement of Catholic organizations in resettlement, communities with close affiliations with the Catholic church often mobilize more sponsors than other communities for the refugees. Abbeville, for instance, became a favored spot for resettlement in Vermilion Parish because of the willingness of citizens of Abbeville to accept and help the newcomers. As more Vietnamese arrived in Louisiana over the course of the twentieth century, they established their homes in places where Vietnamese communities already existed. 

Vietnamese in the Louisiana Economy:

Jobs also drew Vietnamese people to Louisiana. The earliest arrivals in this group mainly worked as unskilled laborers. Over the last quarter of the twentieth century, though, many opened their own businesses. Restaurants and small grocery stores were among the most common forms of small businesses for Vietnamese workers in Louisiana was self-employed, and many others worked for Vietnamese-owned operations. 

Louisiana's fishing and shrimping industries provided many with employment opportunities. Most of the parishes with substantial Vietnamese populations were in the southern part of the state, with access to the Gulf of Mexico. In the last decade of the twentieth century, close to one of every ten Louisiana Vietnamese men worked as fishers or shrimpers, and the Vietnamese accounted for one out of every twenty workers in the Louisiana fishing industry. 

This situation appeared unlikely to continue through the first half of the twenty-first century, because second-generation Louisiana Vietnamese tended not to follow their elders into these occupations. The oil industry was another activity connected to the Gulf of Mexico that offered employment. In Vietnamese communities such as St. Mary Parish's Amelia, many worked at oil-related jobs. 

by Carl L. Bankston III, Tulane University