– 12 ICONS OF NEW ORLEANS –
Selected by JPMorgan Chase
THE ICON: Sandy Nguyen
THE LEGACY: The story behind Coastal Communities Consulting Executive Director Sandy Nguyen is one of unwavering devotion to a community struggling to make its voice heard.
Nguyen’s family immigrated to New Orleans from Vietnam in the late 1970s, a move made in part because of the region’s commercial fishing industry – the same industry with which Nguyen’s father had supported their family in Vietnam.
Throughout her childhood, however, Nguyen realized that making a prosperous life as a Louisiana fisherman was a significant challenge. That challenge was even greater for families like hers, who spoke little English and struggled with the barriers associated with adapting to a new environment.
Watching her parents push against adversity at every turn drove Nguyen to tackle these problems head-on.
In fact, by the time she’d graduated from Tulane School of Business, Nguyen had gained years of experience helping hundreds of immigrant fishermen from Vietnam. But upon visiting coastal communities affected by Hurricane Katrina, it became clear that the story she’d seen repeated time and again – the story that she’d first witnessed with her very own parents – was one that was shared by fisherman all across the Gulf Coast.
With this realization came the creation of Coastal Communities Consulting. Today, Nguyen spearheads the nonprofit organization with unbridled passion, focusing on disaster recovery, technical assistance, social services and economic development. She’s helped secure millions of dollars in disaster relief funds, and she aims to help the region’s fishermen achieve the governmental assistance and policy change she believes are long overdue.
Yet no matter how far she’s come, Nguyen’s parents still inspire her mission. “My parents’ struggle created this lifetime of work for me,” she says. “And if anything happens to the CCC, I’ll be back the same way I started – with a copier, paper and my laptop in my trunk.”
THE INSPIRATION: “Whatever you do, whoever you talk to, just keep your mind open and learn – that’s a powerful thing.”