When Uncle Don (John Beasley) traded Sonny (Michiel Huisman) to the Vietnamese shrimp boat captain in Episode 11, it was cooperation of a sort between the black and Asian fishing communities. Cornell Williams speculated that the Vietnamese might have intended to leave Sonny to swim for his life in the Gulf of Mexico; after all, Sonny had been flirting with the captain's daughter. Such a turn of events would have been bad for Sonny. But should one man's theoretical misfortune be allowed to taint the warm relations between these two peoples? In the end, things turned out well for Sonny. As for the two groups of fisherman, our story of this small trade mirrors a much larger development taking place between fishers of various races. GO FISH, Gulf Organized Fisheries in Solidarity & Hope, has emerged as one of the most important organizations advocating on behalf of them.
"GO FISH is a coalition of member organizations of family fishermen and commercial fishermen," said May Nguyen, a social justice strategist working with GO FISH. "It was formed in response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill."
When our locations manager, Virginia McCollam, was looking for an appropriate boat and Vietnamese crew for the shrimping scenes, she contacted May for assistance.
"More than 30 percent of Gulf Coast fishers are Vietnamese Americans. That's true for various reasons," Nguyen said. "Most of the Vietnamese Americans came to America as refugees after the end of the Vietnam War. Initially, the reason for them settling in the area was Bishop Dominic. He sent out an announcement saying he was going to build a church here. Most of the refugees left Vietnam because of religious persecution because they were Catholic."
"Then the other draw was the fishing industry," Nguyen said. "A lot of people were fishermen in Vietnam, which is why they were able to ferry to boats here. Thien Nguyen, who plays one of the fishermen on the show, ferried a boat here."
The Vietnamese community is at once integrated into and separate from New Orleans. To get a sense of how self-reliant the community is, check out the documentary A Village Called Versailles. It's about the Vietnamese community in eastern New Orleans, and its struggle to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. To get a sense of how thoroughly the community has been integrated into the broader New Orleans community, consider the election of Joseph Cao, the first Vietnamese-American member of Congress; or take a walk on the campus of Xavier University, a historically black, Catholic college, which has see the numbers of its Vietnamese consistently increase; or note how often New Orleanians suggest Vietnamese food when the subject of dining options comes up.