Ben Nguyen Tang Le '06

by Ben Nguyen Tang Le '06

October 24, 2005

The American South is beautiful; it’s just too bad that I couldn’t see it before Katrina. Honestly, between getting to see the Gulf coast and having a chance to talk to those who survived the hurricane, I’m not sure which one came first as I decided to spend my break in Mississippi.

It turned out to be a fall break that I shall never forget. The unbelievable destruction that has torn people’s homes and lives; the bon-fire stories which brought tears and laughs to our face; and that unbeatably warm Southern hospitality that made me feel right at home – all these memories will be kept dear in my heart. I bet they will also stay with my fellow Wallies and Teke brothers.

For the first two days, we helped Nikeland Cooper’s grandma and another resident to consolidate what could be kept in their destroyed houses. It was a little awkward for me to come into somebody’s house and be asked to help them tear down their dry walls, or remove the insulation. Perhaps what made it awkward was that these houses still seemed so alive: family portraits, souvenirs from past trips, birthday cards to loved ones - everything was still there. As much damaged as these houses were, I still felt as if they were only sleeping – not dead. This whole hurricane was just a nightmare, and we can’t wait to see them wake up.

For the last day there, we went visit Biloxi, a town further west from Moss Point. We were shocked. The destruction here went far beyond what we had seen at Moss Point and Pascagoula. Once a nice tourist town with casinos and a sandy beach, Biloxi is now nothing but a few crumbling roofs. Most of the population is Vietnamese American, as I could recognize many of the business brands in Vietnamese. Suddenly, I could feel what Nikeland felt seeing his grandma’s house being torn apart. Mississippi was at that moment no longer a strange distant place – it has been home for my people. Only question is, will it ever be again?!

We stopped by a Vietnamese Buddhist Temple in Biloxi, called Chua Van Duc. I was quite moved that my friends were very eager to help out, as the stop was only an impromptu call. We helped installing the insulation inside the temple, as well as distributing donations to the community of victims there.

Talking to a monk who survived the hurricane, I came to know that he was among the fifty-one people who were stuck upon the apex inside the temple for almost seven hours the first day when water flooded in. These people came from everywhere to celebrate the dedication of this new building. When he told me that they had been saving money for almost five years to complete the temple, I was speechless. Mother Nature has an odd way to remind us that that mankind is still her child.

Never have I seen the U.S. this vulnerable, yet never have I felt this at home. When I left Mississippi, I knew I longed to go back. I want to taste grits again. I want to see how Nikeland’s grandma’s new house will be. I want to meet the South again, refreshed.


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