A Village Called Versailles
About This Episode
More than three decades ago, Vietnamese refugees began to settle in Versailles in eastern New Orleans. By the early 2000s, the working-class community was home to 8,000 residents. But it remained divided between older immigrants and American-born youths. Many residents also felt like outsiders in greater New Orleans, ignored by the local government. A Village Called Versailles is the incredible story of this little-known, tight-knit community in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
When the storm devastated New Orleans in August 2005, Versailles residents rebuilt their neighborhood faster than any other neighborhood in the city, financed by friends and family, with no help from FEMA. They soon found themselves threatened by toxic debris disposal from Katrina when Mayor Ray Nagin exercised his emergency power to open Chef Menteur Landfill just two miles away. Forced out of Vietnam by the war 30 years ago, many residents felt their homes were being taken away from them once again.
Outraged, Versailles fought back. Residents protested at City Hall and crowded public hearings by the hundreds, making the Vietnamese community’s presence felt in New Orleans for the first time. As elders and youth fought side by side — chanting in English and Vietnamese — Versailles finally won a political voice.