Journey To The South
Over the course of today’s menu, we hope to take on a journey across the American South, by way of Chinese migration to the Mississippi Delta, Vietnamese refugees to the Gulf states, and Black Creole culture. Through examining cross-cultural exchange and shared experiences that make up a hidden American history, we hope to promote and continue the tradition of multiculturalism and redefine American culture as we know it. Join us as we eat together and embark on a Journey to the South.
Beef Debris Po Boy - Claiborne Avenue Expressway
Claiborne Avenue is home to a rich culture of Black communities in New Orleans and has served as a cultural and economic hub for these communities for over a century. That all changed in the late 1960s, when a federal infrastructure initiative would replace the towering oak trees and buildings that lined the streets of Claiborne Avenue with an elevated freeway. Claiborne Avenue was the epicenter of the Black community in NOLA, connecting uptown to downtown and home of local theaters, bars, small businesses, and homes. It was also the home of Black Mardi Gras, a celebration of Black Creole and New Orleans culture. Originally developed in the late 1820s, its early population consisted of free Black Creoles, enslaved Black Americans, Haitian refugees, and White Creoles.
Then, in June 1956 the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 was passed, authorizing the construction of a 41,000 mile network of interstate highways spanning the entire nation. New Orleans officials would advance two project proposals, one targeting the French Quarter and the other targeting Claiborne Avenue. The French Quarter was then a mostly White neighborhood considered a historic part of the city and had much local support in blocking the plans for construction in the neighborhood. On the other hand, the residents of the Tremé neighborhood remained largely unaware of the plans for Claiborne. Claiborne lacked the iconic status associated with the French Quarter, and its surrounding neighborhoods had no historic-district protection. Its residents were still fighting for basic civil rights, such as voting and access to public facilities. As such, plans began to be set in motion for the destruction of Claiborne Avenue. In February of 1966, residents were surprised by the sudden arrival of the New Orleans Parkway Commission, armed with chainsaws and backhoes, intent on cutting down the beautiful oak trees that lined the streets. Over the next few years, residents would see the neighborhood dismantled, as construction of the expressway would proceed. This would result in business closures across the neighborhood, property values declining, and a downward spiral of divestment.
The original plan was to build both the Riverfront and Claiborne expressways, which would connect the newly constructed Pontchartrain Expressway. However, after seeing the decimated Claiborne neighborhoods, advocates of the French Quarter doubled their efforts to protect that historic neighborhood from destruction. Then on July 1, 1969, the Secretary of Transportation John Volpe canceled the Riverfront Expressway, convinced it would do irreparable damage to the French Quarter, and so the French Quarter was spared. Claiborne, on the other hand, received no such sympathy, already having halfway completed the construction of its expressway. The Claiborne Avenue Expressway would continue to be built, leading to the destruction of 500 homes, division of local neighborhoods, and an irreparable drop in economic activity and quality of life.
On March 31, 2021, under the Biden Administration, a provision in their new infrastructure proposal as part of Biden’s American Jobs Plan, includes funding to reconnect the neighborhoods divided by the construction of the Claiborne Avenue Expressway, among other neighborhoods affected by previous transportation initiatives. However, it is still unclear of how and when the White House intends to move the package through Congress.
Like Claiborne Avenue, many Chinatowns across the nation face destruction due to the federally backed infrastructure packages and construction of highways throughout the country. Boston’s Chinatown is one instance of this destruction, where the construction of Interstate 93 cut through the once vibrant cultural hub in the 1950s. Similar accounts were seen in Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, among others. There is a history of destruction of historically POC neighborhoods in this country, and we have a shared responsibility to protect these neighborhoods.
With this shared responsibility, we dedicated this dish to the underserved neighborhoods that often are the first to be dismantled by construction projects. Inspired not only by the rich history of Claiborne Avenue, but also of the history of the once humble Po Boy. The Po Boy originally served the underprivileged, a humble sandwich of french bread, tomatoes, lettuce, and roast beef debris - the trimmings of a roast beef, simmered in gravy. Today, the Po Boy is associated with fried shellfish and nearly three times the price of its original predecessor. Like these neighborhoods, this sandwich has been gentrified, servicing now a completely different economic class. We also pay respects to the Vietnamese bakers of New Orleans, who now predominantly supply the city with its French bread for the aforementioned sandwich. Making our own roast beef debris with the Vietnamese beef stew, bo kho, we pair the shredded, gravy smothered beef with a pâté remoulade sauce and pickled daikon and carrots, invoking the flavors of a bánh mì.
Photograph by Mischelle Moy
Congee Creole - 1970 Augusta Riots
Soon after the end of the American Civil War, the Mississippi Delta saw its first wave of Chinese immigrants. The number of Chinese immigrants would continue to rise throughout the early 90s. Originally coming to work on the cotton fields, they quickly turned to opening grocery stores. However, they were not allowed to open these businesses in White neighborhoods, so they found solace in primarily Black communities. These stores not only served as mainstays of the communities, but also as the physical homes of the Chinese families that were faced with hurdles when trying to own their own homes. While being restricted from homeownership, Chinese immigrants were allowed to own businesses and would live in the basements or attics of these stores. These stores serviced the Black communities, being the only stores that would accept payment on credit in a time when Black Americans were facing segregation laws and racial discrimination.
Fast forward about 30-40 years in Augusta, Georgia. 16-year-old Charles Oatman was sent to jail after accidentally shooting and killing his 5-year-old niece, JoAnna Robinson, during a mental health crisis. 6 weeks later on May 9, 1970, Charles Oatman died in Richmond County Jail. His body was found with three long gashes across his back, cigarette burns covering his body, and the back of his skull busted out. His autopsy had found that he died of drowning, his lungs filled with fluid. The story was that Charles Oatman fell out of his bed after a card game. The Black community was not convinced, believing that the jailers had either killed Oatman themselves, or were willfully negligent of the abuse he was facing. Oatman’s death sparked outrage from the Black community. Soon after, they took to the streets, protesting, marching and fighting for justice and racial equity. Over the course of two days, protestors set roughly 30 businesses ablaze, targeting mainly White and Chinese businesses.
The anti-Chinese sentiment was apparent in these Black communities, but not completely unwarranted as anti-blackness was rampant in the Chinese communities. Many of the Delta Chinese saw the Black residents as purely customers and established that relationship as completely transactional. Of course, there were Chinese businesses that did integrate into the Black neighborhoods they settled into, seeing their fellow Americans as neighbors and friends, and these businesses were protected by the Black community when the riots happened. At the end of it, 10 Black residents were shot and wounded, and another 6 killed. 52 years later, in 2021, the Department of Justice reopened the case, investigating the “Augusta 6”, which includes John Bennett, Sammie L. McCullough, Charlie Mack Murphy, James Stokes, Mack Wilson, and William Wright Jr., the six Black men killed by police during the riots.
This dish is inspired by the stories of Chinese and Black residents in the South across the Mississippi Delta. Taking the humble bowl congee along with the flavors of a classic dish, tomato and eggs, we wanted to bring these flavors together with a variation of shrimp and grits. The congee is cooked in a light shrimp stock, with ginger and century egg mixed throughout. On top, our variation of Shrimp Creole, shrimp cooked in a tomato based sauce, with a base of green bell peppers, onion, celery. We replaced celery with its Chinese counterpart, along with ginger, garlic, scallion, and lemongrass. The mixture is cooked in a shrimp butter made with the shrimp heads. The experience, we hope, elicits memories of eating a warm bowl of congee with a side of tomato and egg, and simultaneously like eating a warm bowl of shrimp and grits. Acknowledging this horrific historical incident and the death of Charles Oatman, John Bennett, Sammie L. McCullough, Charlie Mack Murphy, James Stokes, Mack Wilson, and William Wright Jr., and the destruction of family businesses, we want to bring these communities together again, in a way that both Chinese and Black families could find home in, despite coming from different sides.
Photograph by Mischelle Moy
Bread Pudding Parfait - Versailles Arms Apartments
On April 30, 1975, Saigon fell to the Viet Cong troops, ending the Vietnam War. As a result, over the next two decades more than 3 million people fled Vietnam, Lao, and Cambodia. While tens of thousands would die at sea, over 2.5 million refugees would relocate all over the world, including over 1 million in the United States alone. However, these boat people, as they became to be known as, weren’t immediately welcomed, or recognized as refugees, by most of the countries they arrived at. No nations in Southeast Asia signed on to the UN’s Refugee Convention, and many were openly hostile to the incoming refugees, believing that they threatened to overwhelm their already limited resources. Some would make their way into the several emergency relocation centers in the United States: Camp Pendleton (California), Camp Chafee (Arkansas), Elgin Air Force Base (Florida), and Fort Indiantown Gap (Pennsylvania). From there, those at Camp Chafee and Elgin Air Force Base would be visited by Archbishop Philip Hannan, then head of the New Orleans archdiocese, who was intrigued by the story of the devout Catholic refugees who had sojourned together since 1954. The Archbishop extended an open invitation to the refugees to resettle in New Orleans, which seemed to be a perfect fit as a Catholic city and a tropical climate with seafaring opportunities for which the Vietnamese were familiar with. In the decades following resettlement, the refugees would indeed find steady work as gulf coast shrimpers. They took well to the region’s climate, with many commenting that it often felt like home.
A few weeks after the Archbishop’s invitation, the first 200 families made their way to New Orleans, half going to the Versailles Arms Apartments in the Village de l’Est in New Orleans East and the other half going to the Kingston Marrero Apartments. New Orleans East was a historically Black neighborhood. Due to urban renewal efforts that pushed Black residents out of the downtown and uptown parts of the city and the construction of new and relatively affordable housing during the 1960s and 1970s, drawing many first time Black homeowners to the area, the demographic makeup of New Orleans East was about 90% Black residents. When the Vietnamese came in, the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, a predominately Black group that focused on equal rights, criticized the Associated Catholic Charities, a largely White organization dedicated to helping the poor, for disregarding the economic impact that the large influx of Vietnamese refugees would have on the city’s predominantly poor Black population. The sentiment that the Vietnamese were being used by the White population to frustrate and disrupt the ambitions of Black residents for improved economic and social equity. Like other ethnic minority groups, it seemed that they were being pitted against Black people, creating a crab mentality for people of color in the nation. Both groups were victims of imperialism, yet are fighting over a limited pool of resources available to them.
Despite the sentiment, the communities continued to live alongside each other for decades to come. They have banded together on multiple occasions, including Katrina relief efforts and the closing of the Chef Menteur Landfill, a major win for grassroots organizing. In the aftermath of Katrina were perhaps the most visible instances of racial solidarity, where community organizers and residents of New Orleans East banded together, supporting their fellow neighbors and fighting for economic, class, and social justice that was made dramatically apparent in the wake of Katrina.
This complex history between Black and Asian communities inspires this dish. Taking the Vietnamese yogurt, da ua, and making a parfait with familiar flavors of both New Orleans and of Southeast Asian desserts, we took the common and beloved white chocolate bourbon bread pudding and layered it with different toppings you might find in a chè dessert or shaved ice, including sweetened red beans, a variety of jellies, condensed milk, and coconut. We hope to end this crab mentality pushed onto us as minorities of color and come together to make something both new and familiar, and most importantly delicious. Like the activists that continue to lead post-Katrina relief efforts, we aim for racial solidarity and mutual aid amongst our communities.
Photograph by Mischelle Moy
Grilled Rice Paper - Galveston Bay
When Vietnamese refugees settled in the Gulf States like Louisiana and Texas after the Fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, they found a home away from home in a familiar environment along the coastline. They soon found themselves working as fishermen, shrimpers, and crabbers, fitting in naturally in the subtropical climate and using their experiences with the Mekong River to make the most of the Mississippi River that provided a rich and lush environment for fishing. However, their presence wasn’t the most welcomed.
Like the sentiment the Irish had with the Chinese in the 1800s, White residents of the US Gulf Coast were enraged by the newcomers, seeing them as competition and stealing jobs away from existing residents. They complained about the Vietnamese refugees getting help from the government and Catholic Church, which sponsored their stay, and about the Vietnamese not following practices established by the communities before them. For example, the Vietnamese residents, unaware of existing practices which would only be complicated by the language barrier, would put out multiple crab traps where there had been only one previously, ignoring a standard practice followed by the local residents. Tensions would escalate in 1979, when a fistfight broke out between White and Vietnamese fishermen in Galveston Bay, resulting in a White crabber being shot and killed. Hours later, Vietnamese boats were set ablaze and a crab plant known to hire Vietnamese workers became a target of bombings. The two Vietnamese men were charged with murder and later acquitted on the grounds of self defense a few months later. This decision enraged the residence, and news soon reached the Texas Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
In 1981, the KKK made it move into Galveston Bay with the mission to rid the Gulf of the Vietnamese for good, viewing these refugees as their enemies, a continuation of the sentiment many veterans carried after the Vietnam War. On February 14, Grand Dragon of the KKK and White Supremacist, Louis Beam, led an anti-Vietnamese rally in Galveston Bay, vowing to take matters into his own hands if the Vietnamese didn’t leave by May 15. On March 15, armed Klansmen would begin patrolling the Texas waters, circling and antagonizing Vietnamese boats, using scare tactics to drive some of the Vietnamese away from their new homes. On March 29, two Vietnamese-owned boats that were put up for auction were set aflame. Police investigation ended with inconclusive evidence to pinpoint a suspect and the case was closed, frustrating the Vietnamese who were looking to sell their assets and move away in fear for their lives and safety of their families. Klan rallies and organized fear mongering would continue for months to come. The Klan would go on to set up paramilitary training camps, arming White residents with resources and education on how to use automatic and semi-automatic weapons, explosives, and other methods of violence, intimation, and mass destruction.
On April 16, 1981, the Vietnamese Fishermen’s Association, led by Colonel Nam, filed a civil rights suit against the Ku Klux Klan. The VFA would be represented by Morris Dee, a civil rights attorney and founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The result: on May 12, 1981, Judge Gabrielle McDonald issued an injunction that forbade Klan members and militant U.S. fishermen from carrying guns, wearing Klan robes in groups of two or more people, or burning crosses where Vietnamese American fishermen worked or lived around Galveston Bay. It also prohibited any activities having the intended purpose or the reasonably foreseeable effect of intimidating or harassing Vietnamese Americans. The VFA would sue again against the Texas Emergency Reserves, which were housing paramilitary camps led by the KKK, and Judge McDonald would again rule in favor of the VFA on June 19, 1982, prohibiting Louis Beam and the KKK from continuing to participate or operate in private military organizations, parading in public with firearms, and engaging in any military or paramilitary training, specifically combat-related training. In the end, the TER was disbanded and Vietnamese fishermen resumed their activities in Galveston Bay.
This dish is inspired by the legal battle and landmark victory against the KKK led by Vietnamese refugees, and the legacy of the Vietnamese Americans in the South. Taking a popular Vietnamese street food called bánh tráng nướng, a grilled rice paper dish with a variety of toppings, we chose to highlight the seafood that these fishermen made their livelihoods on. Lightly poached squid is accompanied by a fermented carrot and pepper sauce, adding acidity and heat to the dish, and it’s topped with a fresh salad of Chinese celery and a variety of Vietnamese herbs. This dish pays homage to the Vietnamese fishermen, in a celebration of the resilience and determination of these American heroes, fighting against xenophobia and for justice for the American people.
Photograph by Mischelle Moy