Cambodians in Southeast Louisiana 路州高棉族

Winston Ho 何嶸.  
University of New Orleans,
Department of History 紐奧良大學歷史學系.
NolaChinese on FacebookYoutube, and Instagram.   

2019 Oct. 4, Friday.

2019.10.04 - NOLAChinese (Louisiana Cambodians) - 1[Cambodian fishermen Phan Plork from Buras in Plaquemines Parish.  Video by Katie Matthews, 2017.]

Buras is a small town in lower Plaqeuemines parish, near the mouth of the Mississippi River, around one and a half hours southeast of New Orleans. It has a population of around 1000 residents, almost all of whom are fishermen. However, over 10% of its residents are also ethnic Asians, including over thirty families from Cambodia.

The Cambodians first arrived in Louisiana as refugees from their war-torn homeland in the early 1980s, a few years after the Vietnamese first arrived in this state. Like other Southeast Asians, many Cambodian refugees were originally fishermen, and they found a familiar climate and environment in Plaquemines parish. They returned to fishing, and since then, they have flourished as shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico.

2019.10.04 - NOLAChinese (Louisiana Cambodians) - 2[Buras, Plaquemines Parish.  Video by Katie Matthews, 2017.]

But over the past few years, the Cambodians, the Vietnamese, and their neighbors have faced multiple threats to their community. First there was hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Then, there was the BP oil spill. Today, it’s coastal erosion. The wetlands of Southeast Louisiana are sinking into the Gulf of Mexico — a consequence of decades of levee construction and environmental mismanagement by the Army Corp of Engineers, the dredging of canals for oil exploration and navigation by the oil industry, and rising ocean levels. As the wetlands die, so do the shrimp and other wildlife that depend on the wetlands for shelter and food.

One of the current proposals to rebuild the wetlands is sediment diversion from the Mississippi River. Before the construction of flood-protection levees along the Mississippi River in the 1800s, the river would flood every year, depositing a fresh layer of sediment and rebuilding the surrounding wetlands. The sediment diversion would artificially duplicate such annual floods.

2019.10.04 - NOLAChinese (Louisiana Cambodians) - 3[2017 Cambodian New Year Festival in Buras, Plaquemines Parish.  Video by Katie Matthews, 2017.] 

Sediment diversion is currently part of the state of Louisiana’s master plan to restore the wetlands. Scientists at UNO are also among the strongest supporters of diversion. But while most scientists and government officials support diversion, the issue remains controversial among local fishermen.

Diverting freshwater from the Mississippi River may alter the environment where diversion takes place, flooding saltwater marshes with freshwater and nutrients, changing the salinity of the water, killing oysters, and driving shrimp away. Government officials in Plaquemines parish believe sediment diversion will reduce catches and force their fishermen to take their boats farther away to earn a living. The fishermen may need to buy new boats to be able to catch shrimp farther away, or be forced to leave the fishing industry.

2019.10.04 - NOLAChinese (Louisiana Cambodians) - 4

It is currently unknown whether the community of Cambodian fishermen at Buras will survive this latest crisis, or whether they will be forced to abandon their adopted hometown in the future.

[2017 Cambodian New Year Festival in Buras, Plaquemines Parish.  Video by Katie Matthews, 2017.] 


Sneath, Sara.  “Tiny, unique sliver of Louisiana’s coast clings to culture as threat rises.”  Times-Picayune (2017 Apr. 13).  Accessed from the Times-Picayune (  

Mathews, Katie.  “Refuge.”  NOVAC, 2017.  Accessed from NOVAC (  

“They’ve struck oil, but they’re not rich – Cambodian shrimpers do BP’s dirty work.”  Los Angeles Times (2010 Jun. 6).  Accessed from the LA Times (  

U.S. Geological Survey:  Louisiana Coastal Wetlands:  A Resource At Risk.  Accessed from the USGS (  

NolaChinese on Youtube:  Gulf Coast Vietnamese and the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.  Accessed from Youtube (   

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