Monday, June 28, 2010

Last Trawl

Empire, LA
June 10, 2010

The Gulf of Mexico has always been the playground of Brandy Phal and Lyna Vu, but that playground is shrinking daily with the encroaching scope of the oil spill. The eleven year old and her six-year-old sister are used to spending days and nights on end on the water, where shrimping is a way of life filled with fun, toil, and a lot of good eating. It’s a family affair and the girls, with their two brothers and two other sisters, help their mother, father and grandmother with the nets, sorting the shrimp, cleaning the family’s two boats and anything else that needs to be done. “I love to do stuff on the water,” says Brandy. “It’s work, but it’s fun.” The girls, who are American-born and whose parents are from Vietnam, go to school in Alabama. But when the season begins, they board their trawlers and follow where the shrimp lead them. Of late, that’s to Empire, Louisiana, where a small patch on the east side of the Mississippi River remains open to fishing. The girls are taking a break as their mother and grandmother, who shade themselves with wide-brimmed straw hats and speak little English, unload their haul at the dock. They haven’t seen any oil yet, although they’re quite aware of its sinister presence. It’s an almost constant topic of conversation between the adults, they say. What’s changed most to them is that the water’s former vastness seems severely restricted since the spill, cramped with multiple vessels competing for the same catch as federal and state closures increase. The sisters both want to be shrimpers when they grow up, and can hardly imagine any other options. “I don’t know what we’d do if there’s no shrimping season,” says Brandy with a shrug. “Maybe I could paint people’s fingernails. What’s that called?  
Oh yeah, a manicurist.”

-Claire Layrisson

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