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Refugees Lead Alabama Shrimp Industry

Forty years ago, many Southeast Asians fled war in their home countries and chose to come to the United States. Some got on ships that sailed to U.S. territory. The refugees knew they were escaping wars in Vietnam and Cambodia, but had no real idea of where they were going.

Now, some of these people live in an American town that seems like an unlikely place for refugees to settle: Bayou La Batre, Alabama.

Bayou La Batre is considered the seafood capital of Alabama. Shrimp is the town’s biggest export.

Dung Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American shrimper. He remembers leaving Vietnam with his family. He says they first stayed in the Western Pacific island of Guam.

"We didn't know we were coming to the United States until they got everybody off of the ship in Guam,” he says. "They had a camp there. We stayed in the camp for about two [or] three months, and then we had a sponsor to go to Panama City, (Florida)."

A sponsor is someone who helps an immigrant transition to a new life in the United States. Sponsors can provide assistance with housing, completing government documents and other concerns.

But Dung Nguyen says it did not actually happen that way.

He says he worked for his sponsor in Panama City for three months. But, he was never paid for his work. Eventually, he brought his family to Bayou La Batre. There he found a familiar work environment, working on the water, doing what he had done in Vietnam.

Dung Nguyen and other refugees were not always welcomed by people in Alabama. But some locals say it is hard to imagine the seafood industry without them.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

VOA’s Arash Arabasadi reported this story from Bayou La Batre. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

sponsor – n. a person or organization that pays for the cost of an activity or event

transition – n. a change from one state or condition to another