RACE, CLASS & GENDER

American Dream: Stories of Southern Immigration

For many who journey to America, the American Dream and the possible opportunities the 50 states offer is a risk worth taking to seek refuge within the borders of the United States, and more specifically, the South. 

Even though the thoughts of freedom, justice, and equality motivated them to come to the U.S., the journey to the deep South was not an easy one for Lien Beale (formerly Hoang), Irene Schulé-Hebert and Angela Rodriguez.

“We had no choice but to flee the country,” said Beale. “[My family and I] left in the middle of the night (sneaking out as to not get caught), enticing a local fisherman to take us as far as he could on his boat.”

The Hoangs, along with 100 others, joined a boatload of passengers aboard a 48’ fishing vessel that departed from Nam Binh, Vietnam towards the promises awaiting them in America, promises that ensure citizens are never deterred/prevented from speaking freely, practicing their religion openly, and congregating for change. These are promises that guarantee America is a country for the people, by the people.  

 

The Hoangs
The late Irene Schulé-Hebert (whose story is retold through her living son, Willie Hebert of Boutte, Louisiana), spent the majority of her life (33 years) working in factories until the atrocities of the Holocaust swallowed her family. After spending years slaving under Hitler’s regime, Schulé-Herbert vowed to ensure her family would never endure life the way she had to. 
With a pregnant belly and her American boyfriend by her side, she moved to Thibodeaux, Louisiana envisioning promises of opportunity and change. “My mother loved America, and everything it had to offer,” Willie Hebert said. “Raising me in a society where I could grow up to support myself and be successful was one of the biggest reasons she chose to stay.”
Moving to America, while leaving everything you know and love behind is a life commitment. We often fail to realize that many who move to the U.S. leave behind their families. Imagine leaving all you’ve ever know to chase the American Dream, unsure if it’s even real. 
Irene Schulé-Hebert working out of her seafood truck. Photo provided by Willie Hebert..
“The American Dream is being able to provide for your family, to maintain a stable and happy home, and to have an opportunity to excel,” said Rodriguez, whose family is originally from Bogota, Columbia. “It is being able to prosper. My family moved to Pascagoula, Mississippi for work, but also to give their children a safe [environment] and better [education].”
Beale said her parents knew they couldn’t live under the newly-established Communist regime (Viet Cong). “They were willing to risk all of our lives to flee the country, happy with the journey,” she said. 
Similarly, Schulé-Herbert was happy with her decision to relocate to America for a better life, even learning conversational English watching episodes of “Sesame Street” with her son, but she faced racism in the South.  “[We] moved to Pascagoula when I was 13,” Rodriguez said. “The transition was difficult for me because I came [to school] without knowing English. I was the only Hispanic in my school, and it felt isolating.
Beale and her family also faced discrimination. “Often, I hear comments like ‘chink’ or witness my son being called ‘Ho Chi Minh,'” Beale said. “I believe I am discriminated against all the time, something that desperately needs to change.”
Although many have experienced racism, others (like Irene Schulé-Hebert) “hit the jackpot,” and have not. “Most people actually fell in love with my mom, mainly because of all the stories she had to tell,” Hebert said. “She never felt targeted for being German or having an accent, but she also was never scared to let someone know how she felt.”
Schulé-Hebert’s German honesty was a new development for the well-mannered folks of Thibodeaux. Her past was mending with her present, and she was enjoying every moment of the process. 
Hebert Family returning to Germany to visit family. Photo provided by Willie Hebert.
Beale’s family moved from Minnesota to Keller, Texas and spent three years there. “I had just started my senior year when my parents announced that we would be moving to Pass Christian, Mississippi,” he said. “All I could think was, What the hell is in Mississippi? Fishing. That’s what. My father came from a  small fishing village, and that was his livelihood. He visited some of our relatives on the Gulf Coast, and it reminded him of home.”
Mr. Hoang worked long days on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to provide for his family, as did Schulé-Hebert. “Mom operated Hebert’s Seafood out the back of a van as a way to provide for our family,” Hebert said. “She would sell seafood and life stories to her customers every day, so long as they always came back for more.”
While some found immense love within their neighborhoods, others continue to find heartache. “Sure. America provided my family with safety and opportunities, but it is failing,” said Rodriguez said. “Immigrants are the soul of this country. It is unfortunate that there are good people attempting to come into our country legally, but have to wait decades for paperwork to be completed.”
Some feel intolerance is growing, but many are happy with the results of their family journey.
“I have a wonderful life,” Beale said. “I’ve been married for 34 years, and have two successful children. I call the beaches of Pass Christian home, and am fortunate to be living my American Dream.”
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