WELCOME! --- CHU is my last name. VINA stands for Vietnamese in North America
NEW ORLEANS -- It was 1985, and ugly rumors were spreading among African Americans about their newest neighbors. Word had it that immigrants from Vietnam were getting big government grants and prime jobs. The patriarch of Vietnamese immigrants in New Orleans, a Roman Catholic priest named Dominic Luong Mai (Dominic Mai), decided the best way to dispel those fallacies and ease tensions was to find a shared passion. He settled on food.
At a Saturday picnic at an apartment complex that drew hundreds, African Americans sampled pickled vegetables, fried rice, ginger-root chicken and egg rolls. The Vietnamese immigrants ate crawfish, gumbo, and jambalaya. The event became an annual affair and helped end-growing friction between the two communities. "We always have something in common -- we like to eat and get together," said Luong, likening his approach to President Nixon's ping-pong diplomacy with China. "We can always talk about our differences after we get to know and like each other."
When American fishermen fought with Vietnamese immigrants over fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, Luong--accompanied by U.S. Coast Guard officials -- held monthly meetings up and down the Louisiana coast to explain fishing and boating regulations to Vietnamese fishermen. The priest also emphasized that the immigrants must adapt to local fishing customs, not just the letter of the law. "He explained to them that they could not keep having these conflicts," said Andy Van Chu, a longtime Mary, Queen of Vietnam parishioner. "Otherwise, no one will ever catch fish. The people changed their behavior."
In addition to his picnics, Luong sent Andy Van Chu (VanChu) and others to speak to scores of African American churches and community groups when tensions flared between the Vietnamese immigrants and blacks (*). The speeches tried to correct the misperceptions and also gave blacks an insight into life in the Vietnamese community. "Now the relationship is good," Andy Van Chu said. "We all get along now."
Luong also has helped tone down the animosity in New Orleans between anti-communist immigrants and those with ties to communist Vietnam. It's a skill that will be needed in Orange County, where, for instance, in 1999 a Westminster video store owner was targeted by angry rallies after he displayed the red flag of communist Vietnam. "I tell them it's about reconciliation, which is the message of the Gospel," Luong said. Luong says there's no magic behind his ability to unite the community. It's mostly about making friends, listening and -- his secret weapon -- food. He has organized joint picnics, lunches and dinners with an eclectic mix of religious and civic groups. Though an extrovert, Luong does much of his work behind the scenes. In meetings, he often just listens, occasionally offering suggestions or bolstering someone's point of view. It's an approach that's more Eastern than Western in philosophy. "His quiet and accommodating fashion doesn't intimidate or manipulate," Council-woman Willard-Lewis said. "It respects the strengths of all at the table."
Luong, 62, is to be ordained June 11 as an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Orange, which includes all of Orange County. The appointment by Pope makes Luong the first Vietnamese American bishop in the United States. Word recently had reached the golfing crowd about Luong's promotion to bishop. Everyone wanted to give him a handshake and a hug. Some golfers drove their carts across the fairways for the chance to say goodbye. "For a long time, I didn't even know he was a priest," said Jay Maumus, director of the Golf Club of New Orleans at Eastover golf club. "Father was just a nice guy who fit right in. We didn't know he was a big deal."
(*) One of Andy’s famous Speeches to the Inner-City Community is “On the Outside Looking In”