October 15, 2006


The New South rises again, as cultural influences stir pot (Amy McConnell Schaarsmith, October 15, 2006, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

[I]n recent decades, demographic, economic and cultural change has seemed to accelerate as North Carolina, like many other southern states, has endured the erosion of traditional industries, such as tobacco and textiles.

Many of these have been replaced by higher-technology fields, such as banking and health care, that have brought in higher-paid workers and the entry-level service jobs their salaries help support -- drawing not just local workers but immigrants from throughout Latin America and Asia.

For Minh Nguyen, staying in Vietnam just wasn't an option after the war, even though it meant leaving behind his parents, brother and sister-in-law.

"I cannot stay in Vietnam because after the war, the communists took over and I didn't have freedom," he said.

Resettled by the Roman Catholic Church in 1975, Mr. Nguyen came to Charlotte as a 20-year-old, rented a room at a local YMCA and began working in a textile factory making T-shirts for $2.50 an hour.

"I paid $75 a week [at the YMCA], but I still saved a little money," he said.

Mr. Nguyen met his wife, Le Phi Le, in Charlotte in 1979, and the couple now owns and operates Le's Sandwiches and Cafe in Charlotte.

Immigrants like Mr. Nguyen arrived in a region already losing its grip on its blue-collar, industrial past and its onetime food culture of "meat and three," or a meat such as fried chicken or salisbury steak, plus three vegetables chosen from a predictable list: green beans, fried squash, fried okra, mashed potatoes, a small salad and banana pudding.

"If there was no other reason to move to the South, this is a region where banana pudding is a vegetable," said Tom Hanchett, staff historian for the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte and author of "Sorting Out the New South City: Race, Class and Urban Development in Charlotte, 1875-1975".

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 15, 2006 9:02 AM

He made $2.50/hour (times 40 = $100/week) and saved money despite paying $75/week in rent? There's got to be some overtime in there.

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 15, 2006 1:57 PM

"began working in a textile factory making T-shirts for $2.50 an hour" I was a waitress in that era, minimum wage was $2.10/hr. As a waitress, one was supposed to receive tips. My wage was $1.10/hr before tips. $75/week at the Y was a little steep though. A studio apartment at northside of Chicago was only about $100/month. The neighborhood wasn't great. Some pushers at the corners, but there were no violent crimes while I was there for about a year.

Posted by: ic at October 15, 2006 3:45 PM

I'm sure he moved out of that YMCA before too long. Once he had a stable job, he probably found an apartment. If there were other Vietnamese immigrants in the neighborhood, they probably found a room together.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at October 16, 2006 2:00 PM