Workshop: A City Called Versailles

APIA Heritage Month is in full bloom! To commemorate, educate, and celebrate this month, the first A-VOYCE workshop for the month of May dealt with a film that was based around Asian Americans fighting against injustice.

I won’t describe the whole film to you, but to give a brief summary, it was about a Vietnamese Community claiming their presence in New Orleans. The residents’ story begins with their arrival, as refugees in a town (which they called Versailles). Then it shows their survival of hurricane Katrina and their protest against a landfill site placed 20 miles from their community.

To get a fuller synopsis go to the main site: http://avillagecalledversailles.com/story

There were a lot of themes that the film explored. The one I thought that impacted me the greatest was the struggle against having a landfill near their community. Everyday there are injustices done to ethnic minority communities. I thought that one of the reasons the city decided to put the landfill in that area was because the city thought the community would not protest. They assumed that because the Vietnamese Community of Versailles remained relatively quiet before, they were not part of the city, and therefore they could take advantage of them. I could relate when the movie talked about how there was a generation gap between the elders and the youth. I could also understand that there was a language barrier. When the youth united, led, and organized the protest, I felt that A-VOYCE could do the same. Seeing little old ladies carrying card board signs, youth speaking out, and a great diversity of people in the end merging together to celebrate their accomplishment, made my heart leap.

While watching it, I could see plenty of parallels between Chinatown and Versailles Arms Apartment. First being the fact that Chinatown also has faced many injustices such as the demolition of the Hudson Street residential buildings. Also, there was a youth group created to battle against the injustices and speak out for the community as the community’s voice. While we are called A-VOYCE, they were called VAYLA-NO (The Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans). Similar to how A-VOYCE has written Parcel 24 support letters to the mayor, VAYLA-NO wrote letters against the landfill to their New Orleans mayor. Also, during the film, the community created a plan for redevelopment they attempted to present to the mayor and the city. This scene reminded me of Participatory Chinatown’s goal, theme, and significance in aiding the Chinatown Master Plan. I recommend watching the film to see even more similarities.

Some of my favorite quotes I thought were extremely powerful were:

  • “30 years, everything is gone.”
  • “My homeland is described as where I live and die.”
  • “I’m so old, it doesn’t matter if I died.” (In context of the Katrina evacuation.)
  • “This is not Vietnamese, this is America.”

-Tai Tung Village Youth

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