Vietnamese Farmer Market in New Orleans: Making a home for refugees

The Vietnamese Farmers Market. (Photos by: Ngan Nguyen)

When I  imagine the Vietnamese market, I imagine wandering through the crowded market with people holding their empty baskets, the noises of chickens, the sound of the mopeds, and the cranky customers. This is my culture, and the childhood I was forced to give up moving to America. However, it was not until later that I found a market that brings me back to my childhood in the new place that I called home–New Orleans.

When I first moved to America, I thought that markets here had no sense of community since each market is located in a separate area. Growing up with noodles sold from a basket and packaged in banana leaves, I found the dry noodles that were packaged in plastic absolutely lifeless. However, as I was being introduced into the Vietnamese community in New Orleans East, I was surprised to see how much the community had tried to make the place continue and preserve the Vietnamese culture. There is even a farmer’s market in New Orleans East, at 14401 Alcee Fortier Boulevard, and it has been a place that connects the Vietnamese community in New Orleans East.

It is a small market that is open every Saturday from 5:30 AM to 9:00 PM, and it holds the nostalgia of the Vietnamese refugees. This place is essential for a Vietnamese community because it allows us to continue to live according to our culture and traditions. Ever since I learned about the Vietnamese farmer market, I often visit with my father.

Waking up at six in the morning, I always want to come early and breathe in the fresh air of the morning, as if I could not wait to see the sight of people who shared something deeply connected with the nostalgia of my childhood. Stopping by one of the elders, Mrs. Van, I asked her about why she decided to sell vegetables in the market. Moving to America during the Vietnam War in 1975 with her husband and two daughters, Mrs. Van lived most of her life in New Orleans East helping her husband with fishing, until both of her children graduated from college.

Now that she is retired, Mrs. Van grows greens such as Thai Basil, Chrysanthemum, and Vietnamese Coriander in her backyard in the hope of being able to sell them at the market on Saturdays. Although she is retired, Mrs. Van wants to make some income because she has a purpose for it. “With this money, I can send it back to Vietnam to help whoever I could. I made very little, but I enjoy doing it so that I can have something to look forward to–helping others,” she says.

Although she was busy with the customers, I managed to ask about what makes the farmer’s market unique to her and other Vietnamese living in New Orleans East. Mrs. Van calmly replies, “The farmer’s market reminds me of the markets in Vietnam. Living for so long in America, I want to always remember my life in Vietnam when was younger. The market also helps build a sense of the Vietnamese community in New Orleans East. This is something that I am very proud to be, a Vietnamese.”

To others, this small farmer’s market in New Orleans East is just a regular market, but to Mrs. Van as well as other Vietnamese, it means so much more.

Sellers at the Vietnamese Farmer’s Market using cars and tables to establish their stands. (Photos by: Ngan Nguyen)

Seeing a buyer who had on her work uniform for Dong Phuong–a bakery, and restaurant located in the East–I stopped her and asked about why she would be at the market so early. She answers, “I come here every Saturday morning to buy breakfast and fresh food. This market allows me to keep my tradition as a Vietnamese. Just like how I was when I was in Vietnam, I go to the fresh market and buy food, and here I am getting to do the same. I wish the market would be more than just one day.”

There is no denying that the Vietnamese market in New Orleans East is upholding and keeping their Vietnamese traditions. Even though the market only lasts for a few hours, its purpose means so much more to us.

Mrs. Nam, who sells fish that she got from Oklahoma explains that, “It is like back home [Vietnam] to me when people are gathering to sell and buy food that represents our culture, our history.” Having a sense of “living home” is very important to us, being Vietnamese refugees living in America.

It is important that we keep the Vietnamese community going so that the next generation will also thrive and continue our traditions. Although it was difficult for us to leave our home, we still manage to find a way to continue our culture in America, and the farmer’s market is proof of that. New Orleans East is now my new home — a home that we built for ourselves to continue our traditions and invite others to learn more about the Vietnamese culture.

Ngan Nguyen is a Bard Early College and Abramson Sci Academy graduate.


You must login to post a comment. Need a ViaNolaVie account? Click here to signup.