BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - They call themselves the 'silent majority,' but they chanted their demands Tuesday morning.
"There's a lot of people, but their stories only get silenced. We come to share the stories, the struggles," said Mimi-Cristien Nguyen, conference organizer.
With Biloxi's Back Bay as the backdrop, about 100 Vietnamese-American fishermen from Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama spoke of the hardships they're facing because of the oil spill in the Gulf.
"We are suffering exactly the same as the people in Louisiana because that's where we work," said Tuyet Nguyen, a Pass Christian shrimper.
"I don't think I have a future in fishing," said Chinh Nguyen of New Orleans. "Now that I can't work, I don't know what to do with my boat."
Young people whose parents have worked for decades on the water also spoke out about their families' uncertain future.
"This is the only thing they know how to live off of is from the sea, and who knows how long they're able to go out there now. So right now, we need some kind of job security," said Tony Cao of Ocean Springs.
The fishermen want BP and the federal government to create long-term jobs and provide trained interpreters to help them wade through the paperwork.
"These fisherfolk, their main interpreters are their children. But in times like these, a lot of things get lost in translation. Many things are misunderstood," said Ann Dinh, a representative of Vietnamese-American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans.
"The livelihood they have now is gone, and they don't know their future. They don't know what lies ahead and the language barrier, them not being well educated enough to know the red tape, bureaucracy. It's just so hard," said Linda Nguyen of Ocean Springs.
They asked banks to grant fishermen loan deferments. They also requested financial assistance, full health coverage for fishermen who are cleaning up the crude and legal protection from attorneys who they say may want to profit from the fishermen.
"This is about everybody getting their fair share of what's owed to them because you didn't ask for this oil spill," said Bill Stallworth, Executive Director of Hope CDA.
"Eventually, the people's voice will overcome and if you don't hear it today, you're going to hear us in New Orleans. You're going to hear us in Florida, Bayou le Batre. We're going to keep going," said Mimi Nguyen.
Five organizations hosted the conference, including the Mississippi Coalition of Vietnamese-American Fisherfolk and Families. The Biloxi group was created in response to the oil spill.
Today, one third of all commercial seafood workers in the Gulf Coast are Vietnamese-American. In the Gulf, at least 80% of the Southeast Asian community depends on the seafood industry. Most can no longer work due to current Federal water closures.
For nearly 30 years, Gulf Coast Vietnamese Americans have thrived as commercial fishermen harvesting shrimp, crabs and oysters and processing seafood.
The fishing industry was a natural appeal for many Vietnamese refugees arriving in the US in the mid 1970s since these jobs did not require English proficiency.
It also became a pathway to realize the American dream by becoming successful entrepreneurs of the sea. Now, the entire seafood industry and this American dream is ruined indefinitely.