A Resilient Chameleon in a Big Forest

Our SUPER Emerging Scholars (SES) summer institutes have grown from 16 students the first year, to 47 just three years later. Learning important critical-thinking and writing skills is an important piece of the program. Below is an essay written by an SES student during one of our institutes this summer.

Essay by Jeremy Buckner on the resiliency of Bayou La Batre, written at the University of South Alabama, Mobile, institute.

A Resilient Chameleon in a Big Forest
The past of Bayou La Batre is filled with much devastation, but the small community remains resilient. The community is overcoming the aftermath of two of the most notable disasters in the illustrious history of the United States. However, much like the adaptation of a lone chameleon in a rabidly threatening forest, the people of this community are beginning to acclimate to their circumstances in order to remove their obstacles and to advance in life. With Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill in mind, the Bayou La Batre community shows a wondrous willingness toward and open desire to change.

Bayou La Batre communities, particularly those of Vietnamese culture, aspire toward leadership and the freshness of the youthful generations. For example, Vinh Tran, a man who works with Vietnamese communities in Bayou La Batre through the efforts of Boat People SOS (BPSOS), has recently been voted as president for the Vietnamese communities (Hicks 40)—essentially, as the voice for these people. Vinh Tran himself, though a grown man, is younger than most typical Asian leaders. Generally, the leader of an Asian community is an elder who is knowledgeable about archaic traditions and ideals. David Pham (another man who works with BPSOS) reported that the youth are inexperienced but full of brand new ideas (Buckner 17). This is for what the Vietnamese communities are searching—brand-new ideas.

It seems apparent that these Vietnamese communities are not progressing as efficiently as they can and should. It is time for new ideas—it is time for those with little experience to come enter the role of leader and to take the reigns. The idealism and sheer energy of the youth are quite momentous in the desire to incorporate the youth into roles of leadership. These people are not necessarily exposed to the corruption and misdeeds of the world (at least not on the typical level of the older generations). In a manner of speaking, the youth are innocent and clumsy in their ways. It is a learning experience for everyone, but it is one that shall provide new insight, hopefully in a manner befitting that of exponentially positive changes.

Moving beyond the Vietnamese communities, Bayou La Batre in general has seen a boost of passion toward the idea of the youth taking a grasp on the world (or at least on the local area). Following Hurricane Katrina, high school students dropped out of school in order to help provide for their families and to assist in building ships. Therefore, the drop-out rate had exceeded 50% because of this overwhelming desire. However, with the rapidly severing recession, ships became undesirable. As ships became undesirable, work began to dwindle and to cease. Teenagers, now out of work and without a real high school education, desired to re-enroll in high school. The rate of enrollment has risen quite dramatically through the past decade, and though the recession was positively devastating in its own many ways, this rise in education owes itself to the recession.

Folktales are simple tales from which a reader may find connections and easily deduce a solid and clear meaning. In the folktale “The Farmer and the Donkey,” a donkey falls into a well without any hope of escaping. The farmer decides to fill the well, thereby ending its pitiful, helpless cries; the farmer dumps shovel after shovel full of sand into the well, but the donkey merely shakes off the sand and climbs up. Much like the message of the donkey’s perseverance, the Bayou La Batre community used the catastrophes as an opportunity to shake off their problems and move on. Hurricane Katrina in particular had been a terrible disaster, but when the BP oil spill occurred, it was as though metaphorical dirt merely continued to pile on the community without any sign of arrest. However, neither Hurricane Katrina nor the BP oil spill halted its advances. The people do not sit around waiting for some sort of assistance that may or may not ever come.

Even people from outside the community (or at least those not directly affected by either disaster, whether they are from the community or not) participated in the recovery process through donations, labor, and emotional support. Take Amy Beach, for example: as a resident of Mobile, Alabama, she experienced some effects from Hurricane Katrina and then immersed herself into the community of Bayou La Batre, a neighboring community, in order to provide emotional support and to aid in the rebuilding process. Brian Grady, who wrote “10 Learnable Traits for Building Resilience,” said, “After a disaster we don’t need psychiatrists running around talking with people. What helps is having family members and close friends share the experience with victims, because very few people can go it alone” (Grady). The Bayou La Batre residents have begun to work together, to the best of their abilities, to rebuild their community or to support one another. The people of the Bayou La Batre community don’t need to express their woes: they need a connection—they need to know that people are there, and they actually need for them to be there.

After the BP oil spill (from which many are still recovering more than a year later), work in Bayou La Batre became quite difficult to acquire. It became necessary to find different types of jobs, such as those involving new technical skills, in order to become more occupationally competitive and to support their economy. BPSOS began to provide classes and training for these new technical skills, as David Pham discusses (Buckner 15). Though quite strange when compared to ordinary jobs found in Bayou La Batre, these new opportunities are welcomed and appreciated.

As Mary Engelbreit once said, “If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” Evidently, the residents of the Bayou La Batre community display a great willingness toward accepting current changes and an awesome and enthusiastic desire for potential changes. New jobs, particularly ones that require technical skills, assume the empty holes in the community: because the seafood and shipbuilding industries fell rapidly, the residents find other work. The Vietnamese and South Asian communities incorporate the youth into leadership roles, and the rate of enrolled high school students rises. Following Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, Bayou La Batre residents continue to climb admirably and resiliently toward the direction of recovery.