VAYLA Dance instructors Tony Nguyen and Paul Sampson practicing a dance in VAYLA’s recreation room (photo by: Mary Gibbs)
VAYLA is a youth-led, youth organized and developed community organization in New Orleans East that provides services to youth residing in the Village de l’Est neighborhood and surrounding areas (1). Formed in 2006, VAYLA initially functioned as an outlet for the community’s opposition to the city using their area as dumping grounds for waste and debris from post-Katrina cleanup. The community led a protest, giving the youth a chance to get involved with their leadership roles.
VAYLA functions today primarily as a community center for the youth of New Orleans East. As a reflection of the multiethnic population of New Orleans East, VAYLA brings together East Asian, Hispanic, African American, and white young people from the area to participate in community building, political activism, social justice education, and everyday after-school services such as tutoring and social services.
VAYLA currently provides upwards of 200 youth with an opportunity to build and grow a community of their peers. VAYLA offers homework help and tutoring, art and media workshops, ESLclasses, US citizenship classes, leadership training and opportunities, college preparation help, scholarships, legal services, and a number of recreational programs including dance and Tai-Chi classes. Their mission statement reads, “VAYLA is a progressive multi-racial community-based organization in New Orleans that empowers youth and families through supportive services and organizing for cultural enrichment and positive social change” (2).
VAYLA Youths practicing Tai-Chi. Photo by Mary Gibbs.
VAYLA-NO’s Current Location at 13235 Chef Menteur Hwy. Photo by Mary Gibbs.
In 2006, the city of New Orleans planned to open a landfill for post-Katrina wastes and debris in New Orleans East without community input. The outraged community moved to take public action to stop the landfill, but the adults involved, the majority of whom were Vietnamese immigrants, couldn’t speak English. The youth of New Orleans East stepped up and translated between their parents and community elders and the government and politicians they were protesting against (3).
After the landfill had been stopped, the youth hadn’t. The new role of leadership and activism had stuck with the youth, so in May of 2006, founder Minh Nguyen created VAYLA as a place for the youth to congregate and make a difference. In August of 2013, seven years after their genesis, VAYLA moved to a bigger space in the same shopping center on the Chef Menteur Highway in New Orleans East to accommodate their growing community.
VAYLA Youth Gabby Nguyen working on one of VAYLA’s many youth-made murals. Photo by Mary Gibbs.
A youth organizing campaign in partnership with VAYLA and the Asian American Legal Defense Education Fund (AALDEF) dedicates time to the promotion of English as a second language rights throughout New Orleans. This supports the many Vietnamese and Hispanic American students in need of help with their English as a second language education. The YOU2 Campaign is one of the most significant ways in which VAYLA reaches out to help its community (4).
A Mural of Bayou Sauvage in VAYLA’s Current Location. Photo by Mary Gibbs.
Starting in 2006, VAYLA Social is the group’s oldest and fastest growing tradition. VAYLA Social unties youth programs from all over the south from the West Bank in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and as far as Mississippi and Alabama in a sports tournament and talent showcase. VAYLA Social is held for two days in July.
This article was originally published on MediaNola on April 23, 2014.