Winston Ho 何嶸.
Researching Chinese American History in New Orleans 紐奧良華僑歷史研究.
2018 Nov. 20, Monday (revised 2021 Oct. 4).
This past Saturday, 2017 Nov. 18, New Orleans elected Latoya Cantrell, the former District B council member, as the first female mayor in the city’s history.
However, in that same election, New Orleans also elected the first Vietnamese American in history to serve in its City Council. Cyndi Nguyen is now the fifth Asian American to be elected to a major political office in Louisiana, following:
- Harry Lee, sheriff of Jefferson Parish (1979-2007, first Chinese American to hold an elected office in Louisiana),
- Cynthia Lee-Sheng, council member-at-large in Jefferson Parish (2009-present, first Chinese American to be elected to the Jefferson Parish Council),
- Joseph Cao, 2nd District congressman (2009-2011, first Vietnamese American to be elected to Congress in U.S. history), and
- Bobby Jindal, 1st District congressman (2005-2008) and later two-term governor of Louisiana (2008-2016, first Indian American to be elected to Congress in U.S. history and first Indian American to be elected governor of a state in U.S. history).
Cyndi Nguyen’s election to the District E seat on the New Orleans City Council follows the same pattern as three of the four previous Asian Americans in Louisiana politics (Cynthia Lee-Sheng was an instant front-runner because her father had been a popular sheriff) — Nguyen was perceived as a political outsider by an angry electorate, an electorate who were tired of incumbents and wanted new voices in power. And the voters of District E, representing New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward, had good reason to be angry with politics as usual. Among the most devastated areas of the Gulf Coast Region following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, this district was seemingly written-off and abandoned by former mayor Ray Nagin. While most of its population had since returned, the district still lagged far behind the rest of the city in its recovery over the past twelve years, with large sections of the district still in ruins, including great numbers of blighted homes and businesses. Economic recovery was further hindered by high crime rates and violence, a devastating tornado that swept through the Chef Menteur commercial corridor on February 9, and catastrophic street flooding on the first weekend of August.
[Orleans Parish District E City Council Primary Race, 2017 Oct. 14].
In the primary election on Oct. 14, Cyndi Nguyen placed second against incumbent James Gray, in a race with other challengers (38% Gray (D), 26% Nguyen (D), 17% Alicia Plummer Clivens (D), 14% Dawn Hebert (D)). But in the runoff election, Gray failed to secure enough supporters from his former challengers, despite receiving endorsements from the other challengers, despite out-spending Nguyen in political advertising, and despite having strong roots in the African American community. Instead, most voters who voted against Gray in the primary continued to vote against him in the runoff, allowing Nguyen to win a decisive victory (41% Gray (D), 59% Nguyen (D)). Note that while New Orleans East does have a significant Vietnamese population, they are still a small minority compared to the predominantly African American population of District E.
[Orleans Parish District E City Council Runoff Race, 2017 Nov. 18].
Cyndi Nguyen is the daughter of war refugees, and she immigrated to the United States as a child in 1975, among the earliest of the “boat people” to arrive in New Orleans after the fall of the South Vietnamese government. In 1993, she completed a bachelor’s degree in social work at Loras College, a Catholic college in Dubuque, Iowa, and in 2003, she earned a masters degree in organizational management at the University of Phoenix online college. In 2001, she became the founder and executive director of the Vietnamese Initiatives in Economic Training (VIET), a non-profit organization that offers language services, career services, after school programs, and senior activities to Vietnamese immigrants, and also offers similar services to African Americans, Latinos, and many other families in the Greater New Orleans Area. Nguyen had previously run for City Council in 2010 Feb. 6, but placed a distant third (39% Austin Badon (D), 30% Jon Johnson (D), 14% Cyndi Nguyen (D), 8% Alicia Plummer (D)). From 2014 to 2016, she was the chairwoman of the Louisiana Asian Chamber of Commerce 路州亞洲商會, and she has also been a board member of the N.O. Chamber of Commerce, the Girl Scouts of Louisiana East, and the East New Orleans Business Development District. Nguyen is married and the mother of six.
Asian Americans in Louisiana Politics 亞洲美國人在路州參政. 2016. Nola Chinese Youtube playlist. NOLAChinese (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL-du-0FMXLgNNjFQjOMHbfbyubHJ3hLyY).
Cyndi Nguyen, New Orleans City Councilwoman, District 5, official website (https://council.nola.gov/councilmembers/cyndi-nguyen/).
Vietnamese Initiatives in Economic Training (VIET) official website (https://www.vietno.org/about).
Asian American Journalists Association. “Cindy Nguyen” on VIET. 2005. Accessed from Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=os-DGAZaZoE).
Barbarin, Veronica. “Vietnamese Initiatives in Economic Training offers many programs in eastern New Orleans.” Times-Picayune (2014 Nov. 18). Accessed from the Times-Picayune (http://blog.nola.com/new_orleans/2014/11/viet_offering_programs_to_the.html).
Krupa, Michelle. “Cyndi Nguyen vies for open District E seat on N.O. City Council.” Times-Picayune (2009 Oct. 24). Accessed from the Times-Picayune (http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2009/10/cyndi_nguyen_vies_for_open_dis.html).
“Cyndi Nguyen Oral History Interview.” USM NOLA Vietnam Project, 2015 Apr. 22. NOLA Vietnam Project. Accessed from Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5kee2HtfDM). [Oral history.]
Allen, Greg. “Ghosts Of Katrina Still Haunt New Orleans’ Shattered Lower Ninth Ward.” NPR Morning Edition (2015 Aug. 3). Accessed from NPR (https://www.npr.org/2015/08/03/427844717/ghosts-of-katrina-still-haunt-new-orleans-shattered-lower-ninth-ward).
“Vietnam to New Orleans: A Legacy of Survival.” CNN, 2015 Aug. 19. Accessed from Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTU0zntbCo4). [News broadcast, Cyndi Nguyen’s personal life is featured in this video.]
Wendland, Tegan. “After Tornado, Families In New Orleans Begin Rebuilding Once Again.” NPR All Things Considered (2017 Feb. 10). Accessed from NPR (https://www.npr.org/2017/02/10/514503376/after-tornado-families-in-new-orleans-begin-rebuilding-once-again).
Chavez, Nicole, and Krupa, Michelle. “New Orleans flooding and pumping system crisis by the numbers.” CNN (2017 Aug. 12). Accessed from CNN (http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/11/us/new-orleans-flooding-by-the-numbers/index.html).
“Vote4CyndiNguyen.” Empaq TV, 2017. Accessed from Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHbcPhx_l5o). [Political advertising, note the successful implementation of drone technology here.]
LaRose, Greg. “Cyndi Nguyen unseats James Gray in New Orleans Council District E.” Times-Picayune (2017 Nov. 18). Accessed from the Times-Picayune (http://www.nola.com/elections/index.ssf/2017/11/james_gray_cyndi_nguyen_new_or.html).
Mustian, Jim. “Cyndi Nguyen overcomes incumbent James Gray to take District E City Council seat.” New Orleans Advocate (2017 Nov. 18). Accessed from the Advocate (http://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/news/politics/elections/article_d4e23276-cccb-11e7-9bf4-57e36fb3845b.html).
Louisiana Secretary of State Voter Portal (https://voterportal.sos.la.gov/Graphical). [Website, to view the election results for the New Orleans City Council District E race, select “Sat. Oct. 14 2017” and “Sat. Nov. 18 2017,” then click on Orleans Parish on the Map, and click on the “View Results” button.]
Chiang, S. Leo. <A Village Called Versailles>. 2010. A Village Called Versailles, official website (http://avillagecalledversailles.com/story). [Documentary, only scenes from the full documentary can be viewed online, though the website includes a description of the Vietnamese community in New Orleans East in the months after Hurricane Katrina.]