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Sea Change

Nuoc: A Viet-Cajun Story

Johnny Buth sits on his skimmer in the Buras Harbor. With shrimp prices so low, Johnny lost his house, and now lives on his boat.
Anya Groner
Johnny Buth sits on his skimmer in the Buras Harbor. With shrimp prices so low, Johnny lost his house, and now lives on his boat.

In Vietnamese culture, water and home are so linked that they share a word. The Vietnamese word for water is nước. But nước also means homeland.

Today–how the Vietnamese community has to reimagine its relationship with water as Louisiana’s coastline changes. In this episode, we’ll travel to a shrimp dock, a tropical garden, and a neighborhood surrounded by canals to examine one question: What does it mean to live with water in a place where everything about water is changing?

This episode was supported by the journalism non-profit the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. The episode was reported and hosted by Anya Groner. Sea Change’s managing producer is Carlyle Calhoun. This episode was edited by Rosemary Westwood and Carlyle Calhoun, with additional help from Halle Parker. The episode was fact-checked by Garrett Hazelwood. Our sound designer is Emily Jankowski. And our theme music is by Jon Batiste. Sea Change is a WWNO and WRKF production.

Special thanks to Marguerite Nguyen and Daniel Nguyen.

Sea Change is made possible with major support from the Gulf Research Program of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. WWNO’s Coastal Desk is supported by the Walton Family Foundation, the Meraux Foundation, and the Greater New Orleans Foundation.

You can reach the Sea Change team at seachange@wwno.org.



ELIZABETH: my mom has always been a fervent believer in the Vietnamese Zodiac. 

CARLYLE: Elizabeth Tran is second-generation Vietnamese-American, and from New Orleans.

ELIZABETH:  Because my mother believed in it so much, I think it shaped the way that we lived our lives just because she was so concerned and superstitious 

CARLYLE: In Vietnamese culture, the Zodiac determines your fate – your good luck and your bad luck.

ELIZABETH: there's 12 signs and then for each sign, there's five different elements that the sign can be. 

ANYA: One of those elements is water. When Elizabeth bought a house a few years ago, her mother consulted the Zodiac. The house faces east, and the stove is on the north side, the bad side of the house. To fix it, Elizabeth needed a water saint.

ELIZABETH:  and I was like, well, luckily we have this, this pot filler above our oven that has water. Is that okay, mom? And she was like, okay, thank God you have this water over your stove.

ANYA: In Vietnamese culture, water is more than just an element that determines your fate.

CARLYLE: Water and home are so linked that they share a word. The Vietnamese word for water is nuoc. But Nuoc also means homeland.

ELIZABETH:  Water and home are things that that give you life.

CARLYLE: But they’re also easily upended.

ELIZABETH:  Like water is always coming and going, it's always changing. And I mean, it's a cliche to say it, but you can never go home again, right?  Like, you grow up and you come home, and it's not the same place that you were when you were a kid.

ANYA: Elizabeth is a novelist. Water and home are recurring themes in her writing.

ELIZABETH:  I write under E. M. Tran. My debut novel, Daughters of the New Year, came out in 2022.

ANYA: Elizabeth's characters cross oceans, battle in rivers, and survive storms. There's even a pivotal scene in a bathtub.

ELIZABETH:  water is always there and it connects them across entire oceans. 

ANYA: Her book is about diaspora. Her characters are displaced from Vietnam and the U.S., and they travel by water.

ELIZABETH: The Mississippi River, the Saigon River, the South China Sea, the Gulf of Mexico. 

CARLYLE: Her novel mirrors her family’s experience. Like in Louisiana, in Vietnam water is everywhere. The country is basically two giant deltas, with a long strip of land in between. Monsoon rains and their constant flooding last for months.

ANYA: In some communities, houses literally float on lakes or bays. People are born and die on the water.

CARLYLE: They also leave by water. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, over one million Vietnamese people left by sea. One was Elizabeth’s own mother

ELIZABETH: My mother escaped Vietnam on a boat.

ANYA: It was a treacherous journey. Hundreds of thousands of people drowned or starved at sea.

ELIZABETH: these people on boats in the middle of the water in the hot sun

CARLYLE: Vietnamese refugees began resettling in the United States, and many made their way to the coast. Today about 18,000 Vietnamese-Americans live in coastal Louisiana.

But along the coast, water isn’t behaving the way it used to. The Gulf of Mexico is rising. Wetlands are washing away. Storms are stronger and more frequent.

ELIZABETH:  If you think about a place like New Orleans, that is so at the whims of water, like we are actively being subsumed by the water that also has made it such a vibrant place.

ANYA: An ordinary rainstorm can quickly become a flash flood.

ELIZABETH:  Like my car is literally flooded in the street. Just parked. Someday this city will be underwater permanently. 

(rain sound begins under narration)

And I think, Vietnam, It must be the same, right? Water is so dangerous, monsoons, floods, but it's also life-giving.

(rain sound swells)

<<MUSIC >>

ANYA: I’m Anya Groner

CARLYLE: And I’m Carlyle Calhoun. And you’re listening to Sea Change. Today–how the Vietnamese community has to reimagine its relationship with water as Louisiana’s coastline changes. In this episode, we’ll travel to a shrimp dock, a tropical garden, and a neighborhood surrounded by canals to examine one question: What does it mean to live with water in a place where everything about water is changing? Anya takes it from here.


ANYA: It’s a cold day in October and I’m driving to D. Ditcherou Docks. It’s a small marina, in Buras, Louisiana – near where the mouth of the Mississippi River spills into the Gulf of Mexico..

SANDY: this is a beautiful day. I drive down here every week And I never get tired of it.

ANYA: I'm here with Sandy Nguyen, She’s a 50 year old shrimper and businesswoman. She works closely with fishermen and women across the state. If you want to know what’s going on with Louisiana's Vietnamese shrimpers, there's no one better to ask.

SANDY: My relationship with these fishermen are very intimate, like, I know their bank account almost.

ANYA: For almost her whole life Sandy’s been helping shrimpers navigate the tumultuous industry. And these days things are bad.

Sandy grew up around shrimpers. Back in Vietnam, her father was a shrimper.

SANDY: he had his own boat. 

ANYA: Sandy was six years old when her family snuck to the harbor in the middle of the night.

(music starts)

SANDY: I remember dark, rain, thunder. 

ANYA: Saigon had fallen, and South Vietnamese people were fleeing. People paid her father in gold for space on his boat. But in the rush to get onboard, Sandy was nearly left behind.  She  still has nightmares about that night.  

SANDY: My dad picked the worst day of the year. 

ANYA:  The boat was full. The sea was stormy. They were headed to Malaysia. 500 miles away. They nearly died at sea. And when they finally made it the Malaysian coast

SANDY: There were guns pointing at us from the shore 

ANYA: Soldiers shouted at them, saying the country is full. But her dad kept going.

SANDY: my dad keep inching in.  He keep inching in and they're like screaming to get the hell out of there

ANYA: When he was sure they were in shallow water, Sandy's dad sunk the boat.

The soldiers who'd been threatening to shoot switched into rescue mode. They saved everyone on board. But Sandy’s father paid a price.

SANDY: My daddy was beaten black and blue. We thought he was gonna die.

(Music swells then stops)

ANYA: Later that year Sandy’s family arrived in New Orleans. Right away her father realized that he'd moved from one great fishing town to another.

SANDY: What my daddy did was when he came and he saw the climate here and the fishing, he was like jackpot. 

ANYA: Jackpot. Her dad became a kind of founding father for the local Vietnamese community. He coaxed other refugees to join him at their home in New Orleans East.

SANDY: Every time he heard somebody from his hometown landed somewhere in Mississippi or whatever, he'll bring that family, and that family would live in that third room.

ANYA: Men from his hometown worked as deckhands, saving money and pooling it to buy boats. Over time, the community built up a sizable fleet. Today, over half of Louisiana’s trawlers are Vietnamese-owned.

SANDY: My dad was very popular in the community. To me, he's the greatest pioneer. I think he built the whole asian culture here.

ANYA: Community members took the profits from shrimping and invested in new businesses.

SANDY: A lot of us started with boats. It got going from boat to the little grocery store. to the gas station to the seafood restaurant 

ANYA: Boat by boat, on sea and on land, the community made Louisiana their home.

(Music starts)

ANYA: Sandy became a kind of paperwork superhero for her community, navigating a maze of permits and applications all written in English. It all started when her dad went shrimping – too far offshore

SANDY: The whole thing was triggered when my dad got fined $25,000. (needs vocal clean up)

ANYA: For fishing in federal waters. A spot reserved for US citizens.

Sandy was in ninth grade.

SANDY:I went beserk.

ANYA: Her dad was a US resident. He had a green card. So it was legal for him to shrimp, but not in Federal waters?

SANDY: I was like what is the purpose of the permanent green card? (needs vocal clean up)

ANYA: 14-year-old Sandy got to work. She contacted the Coast Guard and even went to federal court.


In the end, Sandy couldn’t lessen her father's fine, but she learned she could navigate American bureaucracy and advocate for other Vietnamese – most of whom didn’t speak English

SANDY: Every time I went to translate, I learned something new.

ANYA: Neighbors began relying on her to help them get food stamps and apply for disaster assistance.

SANDY: I'm, like, everybody's plan B.

(Music stops)

ANYA: These days, having a plan B is crucial. Shrimpers are struggling. That’s why I asked Sandy to bring me to D. Ditcherou dock.

ANYA: We pull up and from the car we can see Buras Harbor. It’s quiet today. Pelicans perch on pilings. A cat licks its paws. About a hundred boats clink against the side of the docks. It’s the middle of the fall shrimp season, and these boats should all be out on the water.

SANDY: When you come here any other year, You would not see a single boat. 

ANYA: The boats in Buras Harbor are called skimmers. They’re smaller than most shrimp boats, and only take a captain and a deckhand. But shrimp prices are so low that no one is fishing.

SANDY: Now this is what makes me cry. Right here. Peak shrimp season.

ANYA: Sandy knows the shrimp business inside and out. For her, each docked boat means a family might be going hungry.

SANDY: you are looking at families and if they have deckhands, you're looking at two families. And if you go to the bigger boats like mine, you're looking at four families. I have three deck hands.

ANYA: Shrimp prices are plummeting, About 1.8 billion pounds of cheap imported shrimp flood the US market each year. And local shrimp prices are bottoming out. Along the Gulf Coast, a shrimper’s catch is selling for less than when Sandy was in high school.

SANDY: Back in the days when my dad was shrimping, diesel was at 80 cents per gallon and the jumbo shrimp were typically more than four dollars. Nowadays, the shrimp price is at 80 cents a pound and diesel is at $4.

ANYA: For decades, Louisiana’s Vietnamese communities found stability through shrimping. Now the industry is on the verge of collapse. Sandy says shrimpers are desperate.

SANDY:  It's like they want to cry when they talk to you. 


ANYA: Sandy and I are standing on the dock, when she spots a shrimper she knows.

SANDY: Johnny…. (Chatting Fade out)

ANYA: His name is Johnny Buth. He keeps his skimmer in the Buras harbor.

JOHNNY: Always a dream to be a fisherman. I think it's easy, because I love fishing.  What do you do? Just put on the net? 


ANYA: We walk down the pier to his boat. Johnny tells me he moved here from Boston two years ago, hoping to make a living on the water and join the Vietnamese community Sandy’s father helped build.

JOHNNY: I come down here, buy the boat, it's not, it's not working out. 

ANYA: Johnny expected to make good money, but lately it’s hardly worth the time or effort to drop his nets.

JOHNNY: And if your boat broken again, you're done.

 ANYA: I follow Johnny onto his skimmer. The deck is long and flat. Massive green nets fold up like wings. Johnny bet everything to start a new life here. Now, he’s in a financial free fall.

JOHNNY: I got two, two kids in college right now. And I lost my house over here, So I sleep on the boat.

ANYA: How long has it been that you're sleeping on the boat?

 JOHNNY: A year now. It's hard. It's not easy.

ANYA: Johnny throws up his hands and laughs in a “what-can-you-do” kind of way. His room below deck barely has space for his bed. His only chair is behind the steering wheel.

JOHNNY: This is where I cook. I eat right there.  I've got a microwave, I've got heat. It's cold at night time.

ANYA: He'd sell his boat, but with the industry collapsing, he doubts he'd find a buyer. Meanwhile, he tries to make himself comfortable with what he has.

JOHNNY: This is my house.

ANYA: Yeah

JOHNNY: Better than sleeping in the tent

ANYA: Johnny wishes he could go back in time and tell himself to stay in Boston, far away from this collapsing fishery. He’s stuck.

JOHNNY: I don't like give up. I just, I just need a helping hand.

ANYA: Johnny dreamed of moving here for over 20 years, but instead of providing him with income and community, the water is holding him captive. It’s a lot to take in.

Sandy tells me his situation isn't unique. For decades, shrimpers have been struggling to make ends meet. Over and over again, just as things start to get better, a new catastrophe hits.


CBS: She is now a powerful Category 5 storm with winds up to 175 miles per hour. 

ANYA: In 2005, Hurricane Katrina broke the New Orleans levee system. Louisiana’s oldest and largest Vietnamese neighborhood in New Orleans East was flattened. The shrimp fleet was destroyed.

And then, Just five years later, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded.

FOX8: The fishing industry will be forever impacted by the massive amounts of oil that spilled into the gulf. 

ANYA: And, More recently, efforts to prevent flooding in Louisiana cities are killing shrimp.

WWLTV: This morning, the Army Corps of Engineers started opening the Bonnet Carré Spillway to help take the pressure off the local levees. 

ANYA: The spillway functions like a relief valve for the Mississippi River. It can be opened and closed. For most of its near century of existence, it's only had to open about once every 8 years. But increased rainfall has changed that.

4WWL: For the third year in a row

TWLA: For the fourth time in three years 

ANYA: Each time the spillway opens, freshwater gushes into the brackish bays, diluting the water’s natural salinity and decimating Louisiana’s brown shrimp.

Music ends

ANYA: Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill, freshwater intrusions, a surplus of imported shrimp. (pause) Simi Kang is a cultural anthropologist who works with Sandy at her nonprofit, Coastal Communities Consulting. She says when shrimpers can’t afford to go out, that loss of income hurts the whole community.

SIMI: less money is going into the Vietnamese American and Cambodian American communities in general, forcing people to take out  second loans on their homes, forcing people to choose between eggs and milk.

ANYA: And Sandy says it’s not just an economic problem. This past year, a dock owner died by suicide. Sandy attributes his death to job-related stress. She worries about how others in her community will cope.

SANDY: So now all of a sudden you're seeing more drug abuse. I know that for sure. Alcoholism, my man, all his friends. 

ANYA: Back in the 70s and 80s, when Vietnamese refugees were first arriving in Louisiana, shrimping was a lifeline. Now, that dependence has become a hazard.

SIMI: I think it's safe to call it a crisis.


<<boat engine ambi>>

ANYA: Just before Sandy and I leave the harbor, a skimmer motors in. Sandy runs over to get a look at the catch.

SANDY: my God, look at the shrimp, right? So much. 

ANYA: She picks up a shrimp as long as my palm. Never in my life have I seen shrimp this big.

SANDY: And so you wait for a season like this, to cover three, four seasons.

ANYA: Except, with prices so low this year, a bumper crop of wild shrimp isn't enough to cover basic bills. The irony is painful.

SCENE: River diversion

And now, there’s a new infrastructure project that shrimpers are saying could be the nail in their coffin. It’s a big river diversion project intended to build back land. Which Coastal Louisiana needs. But building that land will also really hurt the shrimping industry. Because it will bring a TON of fresh water into the brackish water where shrimp live. Shrimpers are not taking this lightly.

WGNO: This project saw backlash from the fishing community, (fadeout)

ANYA: The state held public comment sessions about the diversion project, but because the sessions were in English, most Vietnamese shrimpers didn’t speak. Instead, they submitted comments online.

SIMI: Feedback included my English isn't good enough to train in another industry. I am five years from retirement. I had planned on closing out my work life on the water.

ANYA: After surviving the fall of Saigon, relocating from Vietnam to Louisiana, and then working as a community to build a new life here based around shrimping, a lot of fishermen say they can’t transition again. Younger generations are already seeking work far from the volatile industry where their grandparents and parents made their living. But as hard as things are, many remain committed to living here in coastal Louisiana.


ANYA: That afternoon, Sandy drives me from the dock to visit a shrimper turned gardener named Sinh Pham. For the last decade, Sinh has been experimenting with ways to make a living off the land instead of the water.

SANDY/SINH:  And Sinh! (Play their conversation in Vietnamese beneath the beginning of narration)

ANYA: We walk into a backyard wonderland unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Dressed in white rubber boots, a blue hoodie, and beanie, Sinh squats by a concrete pond, surrounded by lavish tropical plants. He’s sorting plum-sized snails. The big ones he puts into a bucket. The small ones go back into the pond.

ANYA: What are you doing with the snails right now? 

SINH: Somebody want and I just give them some. Not for sell, just ready for eat. 

ANYA: How do you prepare them?

SINH: Asian people, they cook like, Sour soup, and they put with lemon rice. 

ANYA: Sinh is 58 years old. He took up gardening ten years ago. Magenta bougainvillea blooms ornament the pond. Japanese cucumbers hang from a trellis. He shows me a hot pink dragon fruit growing on a tree-sized cactus. Behind it are rows of giant daikon radishes and mustard greens. I ask him how he’s able to grow so much in such a small space.

SINH: I take the fish and I dry them up and I, uh, ground them out and I, I, I put it to make soil. (fade out)

ANYA: He’s taking bycatch from shrimping and turning it into compost. It's a winning formula. Sandy sees Sinh’s garden as a model other shrimpers could copy, a way to stay out of debt and weather the current and coming crises.

SANDY: We're talking about adaptation, strategy, alternative income.

ANYA: But Sinh says he’s not interested in profiting off his garden.

SINH:  I'm not do this for the business, not do that for the income. 

ANYA: With the shrimp economy buckling, Sinh’s neighbors can't afford groceries. So he gives his harvest away for free.

SINH: I try to help the people out

ANYA: He offers me fruit from his tree and then places a bowl of chili pepper and salt on an outdoor table for me to dip it in. I take a bite.

ANYA: That's starfruit?

ANYA: The taste is sweet and crunchy, almost like a cucumber.

ANYA: Oh my gosh. It's so good. 

SANDY: Isn’t it? Mm-Hmm.  I told you. Everything here is good

ANYA: In Sinh’s lush backyard, it's easy to feel hopeful about the future. But even gardening is fraught with water issues. Last summer, a nation-wide drought lowered the water level in the Mississippi River so much that a wedge of saltwater traveled upstream, infiltrating drinking water. Ever since, Sinh’s plants have been less productive.

SANDY: We haven't had our exotic fruit for a while. Last year was the heat and the drought. This year, they lost a whole bunch with the salt water.

ANYA: As we leave, I think about the shrimpers I’ve met today and wonder what will happen to thousands of others like them?. Will they follow Sinh Pham’s model, and develop skills they can use on land? Or will their future look more like Johnny Buth’s life, forced to live on their boats, as debt piles up?


AMBI of walking in grass

ANYA: It’s a Saturday in mid-November. And I’m in New Orleans East visiting one of Louisiana’s oldest Vietnamese neighborhoods to see how residents are imagining a future with more water. Khai Nguyen is with me. He’s a community advocate and, lately, he’s been leading a group called the Water Leaders Institute.

KHAI: Welcome back, you guys. We're hoping to transform the way we look at our canals and how we live with the water.

ANYA: The air is crisp and clear. A few dozen people have gathered on the banks of the Maxent Canal. Across the water an egret lifts into flight. This neighborhood is called Village L’Est. Khai grew up here.

KHAI: my parents still live a few blocks away from where we're standing right now.

ANYA: Village l'Est is adjacent to the Versailles Arms Apartments, where New Orleans’ first Vietnamese refugees were housed in the 1970s and 80s.

Today it’s home to a diverse group of Black, Latino, and Vietnamese people. Most residents of Village L’est don’t work on the water. But water is still a big part of their lives.

KHAI: So this community here is especially surrounded by water.

ANYA: The Maxent Canal encircles the neighborhood. Khai says since he was a kid, it’s been an eyesore and a danger.

KHAI: you wouldn't even think of this as a place where you would want to go.

ANYA: Khai’s partner in this project, Sage Michael Pellet, agrees. He grew up nearby and says the city has neglected these canals.

SAGE: they are really scars on our background, of our buildings and our homes. they are not connected to our communities. 

ANYA: He thinks cleaning up trash and runoff could help.

SAGE: I see places around the world that have beautiful access to canals, Venice and, and Amsterdam.. I'm always like, why is not for our community in New Orleans and why not New Orleans east? 

ANYA: Using a mixture of Spanish, English and Vietnamese, Sage Michael divides the Water Leaders into two groups.

SAGE: One, two, three. One, two. One, two. One, two. One, two. One, two.One, two. One, two. Wow. Wow. One, two. One, two. 

Group one will observe fish. Group two will observe the plants growing on the banks of the canal.

WATER LEADERS: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. (talking in Vietnamese)

ANYA: A half dozen women gather around a water lily. They say the landscape reminds them of Vietnam. Water lilies like this one are harvested for cooking and weaving.

WATER LEADERS: In Vietnam, they have the similar. They use that to make straw hats and different items. 

ANYA: Oh, like the nón lá. 

WATER LEADERS: Yeah, nón lá, yes.

ANYA: Non la is the Vietnamese word for a woven conical hat. You’ve probably seen them before. They’re an iconic symbol of Vietnamese culture. The conversation shifts from plants to water. For too long, water has been a source of trauma for this community.

KHAI: Growing up, water's always been associated with bad, like, you know, flooding, hurricanes. In New Orleans East, there really hasn't been anything to make us positive about living with water. 

ANYA: Around me, people recall the damage from Hurricane Katrina.

WATER LEADER: I lost everything, hundred percent, I so sad.

WATER LEADER: pre Katrina, the water seemed more like a friend than a foe. After that, it kind of changed. I don't know, maybe it's like that boyfriend, you know, you should leave alone, but you still keep going 

ANYA: This neighborhood rebuilt faster than almost anywhere else in the city. But, Village l’Est is still vulnerable to storms. Khai says that even small rain showers can cause big problems.

KHAI: Whenever we get rain storms the canals store it and then we pump that out into the lake or wherever.

ANYA: And when water is pumped out of the ground, land compresses, drying out like a kitchen sponge. Here, in Village l'Est, overpumping is causing roads to crumble and foundations to lean.

KHAI: Where we are right now, the Michoud area, it's like one of the highest rates of subsidence in the city.

ANYA: Subsidence–sinking land–makes floods even more damaging. Residents are scared. And Sage Michael says that fear can evoke intergenerational trauma

SAGE: Especially with black communities, people come across the water with the transatlantic slave trade.

ANYA: As I listen to Sage Micheal, I remember something Elizabeth Tran, the novelist from New Orleans, told me. She said that when it comes to water, Black and Vietnamese communities actually have a lot in common.

ELIZABETH: the image of the person stranded on a boat or being moved on a boat forcibly against their will is such a striking historical motif

ANYA: Though the circumstances were very different, both groups were forced across the ocean by violence.

ELIZABETH:    It's very poignant when you think about that in terms of refugees… the place that my parents came from, they cannot go back to, um, because it's gone.

ANYA: Like Louisiana, Vietnam is losing land at an alarming rate. The entire Mekong Delta could be underwater by the end of the century.

ELIZABETH: For my mom's generation, there's been so much environmental trauma, it's almost like they expect it.

AMBI Water

ANYA: Back at the Maxent Canal, Sage Michael paddles a kayak along the shore. He says healing from these water-related traumas is exactly why these specific communities--Black and Vietnamese New Orleanians-- are here today. He asks a woman named Nao Tijo what she learned from the program.

NAO/SAGE: What I saw today? 

SAGE MICHAEL: Yeah, what you saw today.

ANYA: With so much talk of trauma and floods and dangerous ocean crossings, I expect her to be somber. Her answer surprises me.

NAO: Row row row the boat,  Merry, merry, merry, merry, la, la, la, la, la. 

ANYA: In my mind, I see the image Elizabeth described. A person on a boat at sea, only they're not stranded or being moved against their will. This time, they're holding the oars and steering the boat. They’re in charge. Like everyone around me, I’m creating a new association with water, and I’m laughing.

SAGE MICHAEL: Shift the mindsets of the people, educate them on what they walking around, the plants and the species and make them connected with their ecosystem. 

ANYA: Building or rebuilding a homeland. Reconnecting with water. Turning deep-rooted fear into something stronger and safer. Those are tall orders. But today in New Orleans East, people are showing up and the future they’re dreaming up sounds pretty spectacular

SAGE MICHAEL: I see boats on the water, uh, uh, music, bands on the water playing music

KHAI: It'd be really cool for us to have like a, little event where we have floating vendors and selling food and things like that.

SAGE: I see children on the shoreline with binoculars, um, watching the birds.

KHAI: The floating market idea is prevalent in Vietnam. So that's not gonna be something unfamiliar. 

SAGE MICHAEL: live with water and water is living. 

ANYA: Maybe building a future starts like this, by reimagining the relationship with nuoc. Remember, nuoc means both water and homeland. That double meaning isn’t just a metaphor or a literary hat trick.

It’s that they’re intertwined. They’re at the center of everything.


CARLYLE: Thanks for listening to Sea Change. This story was supported by the journalism non-profit the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. Freelance journalist Anya Groner reported and hosted the episode.

Sea Change’s managing producer is me, Carlyle Calhoun. This episode was edited by Rosemary Westwood, and myself with additional help Halle Parker. The episode was fact-checked by Garrett Hazelwood. Our sound designer is Emily Jankowski. And our theme music is by Jon Batiste.

Sea Change is a WWNO and WRKF production. We are part of the NPR Podcast Network and distributed by PRX.

Sea Change is made possible with major support from the Gulf Research Program of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. WWNO’s Coastal Desk is supported by the Walton Family Foundation, the Meraux Foundation, and the Greater New Orleans