Father Vien — New Orleans' Community Champion

By Grace-Sonia Melanio, AAPCHO Membership Relations Associate
Posted on May 20, 2010

Father Vien Nguyen, a Catholic priest and progressive social activist in the Vietnamese community of New Orleans recently received the Community Champion Award from the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO). Father Vien is prominently featured in the Independent Lens documentary A Village Called Versailles , airing next Tuesday, May 25th on PBS (check local listings). AAPCHO Membership Relations Associate Grace-Sonia Melanio gives us a recap of the awards ceremony.

In February, the organization I work for, the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO), at their fundraising awards gala, showed excerpts from A Village Called Versailles, and presented Father Vien Nguyen with AAPCHO’s Community Champion Award. For those of you who are not already familiar with AAPCHO’s work, AAPCHO is a national organization representing community health centers dedicated to promoting advocacy, collaboration, and leadership that advances the health status of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. 

So when my organization began having conversations about honoring a community champion, we wanted to recognize Father Vien’s work towards re-establishing primary health care services in New Orleans East post-Katrina. As chronicled in A Village Called Versailles, Father Vien’s leadership helped galvanize Vietnamese Americans in Louisiana to rebuild their region, and fight a toxic landfill that threatened the well-being and health of their community. When ITVS learned that AAPCHO planned to honor Father Vien, they graciously loaned us a copy of the film to show at our awards ceremony. While Father Vien’s accomplishments were read by our emcee, film and television actress Tamlyn Tomita, the audience was visibly moved, as footage from the documentary was simultaneously projected on two large screens. 

The film punctuated the remarkable battle Father Vien and the Vietnamese American community of Versailles had fought and won to reclaim and protect their home. Watch the trailer for A Village Called Versailles >>


As a health advocate, the documentary reminds me that the definition of healthy communities reaches beyond the ability to see a doctor for your annual check up (although that is very important too). Father Vien and the community members of Versailles recognized that environmental health is intrinsic to personal health. A Village Called Versailles also illustrated the important point that healthy communities are empowered communities. 

Empowered communities are not only driven by a sense of self-preservation, but also by the principles of compassion and respect, where the voices of both the young and elderly are equally valued. At the awards ceremony, Father Vien graciously accepted AAPCHO’s Community Champion Award presented by Congressman Joseph Cao. He was quick to highlight the hard work and advocacy of his fellow community members. I continue to be inspired by Father Vien and the Vietnamese American community of New Orleans East. It’s my hope that many others will learn about this remarkable story, and also draw inspiration from the film, just as I have. 


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