Research project to preserve oral history
Recording history and the untold stories of Hurricane Katrina is the driving force behind a UH oral history project intended to educate the public about the aftermath of the 2005 disaster.
"The question isn’t whether another hurricane will hit the Gulf Coast. The question is when and what is the best way to respond in the situation," English professor Carl Lindahl said
Lindahl took on a research project documenting the stories of Katrina evacuees in 2006.
"It was a great opportunity for bringing together the University and the community for support and research," Lindahl said. Lindahl covered women, Hispanics and blacks, but said that the stories of the Vietnamese evacuees needed to be heard as well.
He then enlisted the help of Long Le, a UH lecturer in Vietnamese Studies.
Additionally, the research has great application in the effects of other catastrophic situations, Le said.
"We wanted the larger public to understand that the Vietnamese story was the same and different as African-Americans, but the big problem for us was the language barrier," Le said.
Together, Le and Lindahl found 20 evacuees – eight of them students – and documented their experiences.
The project targeted mostly older evacuees to compare this experience to when they fled Vietnam in 1975 as refugees during the war, he said.
The 1975 conquest of South Vietnam by Communist North Vietnam and the harsh new regime caused many Vietnamese to flee.
About 130,000 refugees resettled in the United States, many in New Orleans. The tight-knit community was based on the Vietnamese Catholic Church.
Despite feeling a sense of loss, they felt they could get through this evacuation for a second time, Le said.
"They began another chapter of starting over. The sense of community the Vietnamese found in Houston was really neat," Le said.
The students involved with the project were trained for special interview tactics, which included asking only minimal questions.
This would produce a story free of interference and give the evacuees time to tell their story of life before, during and after Katrina as clearly as possible, Le said.
Because Vietnamese is a formal language, this took longer than planned, but is moving along smoothly, Le said.
All the evacuees have been interviewed and a few stories are waiting to be transcribed. The project should finish in the spring and be preserved in the Library of Congress, he said.
"This is one of the only projects preserving the actual experiences of Vietnamese evacuees," Le said.