|Asian Americans in New Orleans
by Heidi M. Pascual
| Dac Van Tran has lived in New Orleans for 23 years. He loves the place and his job as a waiter at Cafe du Mond, a popular snack place fronting Jackson Square and near the original French Market. Thus, when Hurricane Katrina struck and forced everyone to evacuate, Van Tran vowed to come back. Originally from Vietnam, Van Tran considers New Orleans home.
"We were told to leave because of Katrina," Van Tran told this writer during a brief stop at Cafe du Mond recently. "We went everywhere. Some went to Atlanta; some went to Dallas; some went to Houston. I went to Houston." As if the evacuees' hardships were not enough, Hurricane Rita threatened Houston so Van Tran decided to evacuate to Galveston. He finally evacuated to Arkansas when Rita arrived in Galveston. Van Tran said the whole experience was unfortunate and sad, but that life has to go on. He came back to New Orleans after 50 days, to help clean up and reopen Cafe du Mond.
"I love New Orleans," Van Tran said with a smile. "I don't want to move somewhere else. So we got to build it up. Nowadays, business is still slow over here. We don't have conventions, no tourists ... but we try to do the best, and make up for everything. We pray."
|Manuel Roxas family|
| Strolling along the French Market area, I chanced upon a tourist store slightly larger than other shops around and filled with various sourvenir items, T-Shirts, Mardi Gras paraphernalia, and other dry goods. While choosing some gift items to bring home to Wisconsin, I heard the storeowners talk to each other in Tagalog, my dialect! and of course, it wasn't hard to converse with kababayans anywhere in the world. I learned that the Roxas family originally came from the island of Capiz in the Philippines.
Annabelle, Manuel's wife, answered my questions about Katrina and its impact on their family life, while Manuel attended to the customers.
Annabelle, speaking in straight Tagalog, narrated an almost parallel story that many other folks from New Orleans experienced: They were forced to evacuate, were helped and cared for by people from other places, came back to New Orleans, and found that nothing was left of their home and belongings.
What I readily observed, though, was the visible positive outlook reflected on the family's faces. Annabelle said that before Katrina, their store was only half its present size. "Katrina forced a lot of business people out," she said. "Very few were able to survive in this area. When we came back, the landlord of this shopping center helped us reopen our business by charging 50% less than our regular rent. But despite that cut, since there were no tourists, business was very slow. We thought we had to change strategy. We focused on the volunteer workers, the army, and others who came to clean up and help rebuild New Orleans. They became our target customers. We offered new merchandise that caught their attention: T-shirts with comic or Katrina-related slogans, and stickers, for example."
With less shops opened than pre-Katrina days, the Roxas store grew slowly. Annabelle said that their growing business offsets their loss. The family lost their home and they are temporarily living in two trailers provided by the federal government, but they are grateful to God that they're alive and starting to stand on their own. "We didn't even have flood insurance, so we can't rebuild unless the money comes from our pocket," Annabelle said. "But we believe that God has a message to us. Katrina actually made our family closer ... Then our business is picking up."
The uncertainty of the family's future was also in the spouses' minds when they left New Orleans at the height of Katrina, Annabelle admitted. "We were starting to weaken and lose hope when we left," she recalled. "But God was great. When we evacuated to Florida, a church helped us settle in a house, rent-free, for six months. They even paid for our utilities! When we came back to New Orleans, we were disappointed and heartbroken to discover that we had lost everything, as if the whole world fell on us. Our home was filled with mud, so we tried to clean it up, but it was gone ... However, the support we received was awesome. As I said, our landlord gave us a break in rent and allowed us to occupy a bigger store space for less. Then FEMA provided us with two trailers. God is really here with us and He hears our prayers. I believe that as long as you're walking the right path in life, God will never desert you."
A strong faith and a positive outlook truly make a big difference in any effort at rebuilding lives.
|(L-R) Dac Van Tran; Cafe du Mond waitresses|
|(L) The Roxas Family|