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Reflection Essay

February 26, 2013 1 comment

Reflecting back on the film from class on Thursday I had mixed feelings about the film and the arguments that it presented. I feel like a majority of the topics and the stories covered do not tend to end happily or come to any sort of complete conclusion. It was very nice to see for a change, an environmental justice success story for a minority group. The Vietnamese community when struck by hurricane Katrina was at a serious disadvantage before, during, and after the storm. Their story is a success because despite their disadvantages they managed to stick together and pull through, contrary to other minority groups affected by the hurricane. Because they were such a tight knit close community they were able to rebuild much faster and efficiently than other minorities. I feel while this had its advantages to helping them it also held disadvantages through out the entire natural disaster process. I would like to preface this essay by saying that I do not think in anyway that the Vietnamese people deserved what happened to them and how they were treated in any way what so ever.

While watching the film I could not help but to think that the Vietnamese community being disadvantaged was partly their own doing. I asked myself, how do minority communities not interact and get involved with the other communities around them?  The film showed that kids, both African American and Vietnamese went to school together yet they never interacted with each other outside of class. How does that happen? I understand that when the Vietnamese first arrived they probably felt like total outsiders

I feel like their close-knit community is a double-edged sword. On one side it gave them an identity and capabilities that helped them through the hurricane, but on the other it created barriers between them and the world outside of their community. Their close-knit community created language barriers, which would affect them at every stage of the disaster. It created political barriers in the after math when it came time to rebuild. Because the community of Versailles tended to keep to themselves they were not active in the community of New Orleans or active voters. When it came time for decisions to be made in regard to what areas needed help rebuilding or where to put a toxic landfill, the local government did not hesitate to locate it in their community. I believe in the video that it was said that the community of Versailles did not matter because they do not vote. If they had been more involved and didn’t sequester themselves to the point that no one knew they existed there probably would not be an environmental justice issue in the first place. I understand that the reason the community of Versailles was started was, as a refugee community for people fleeing from Vietnam in the 1970’s, so a majority of them did not speak English and were very unfamiliar with the customs and culture of America, but I feel like that is no excuse. They came to America for freedom and opportunities yet they did not feel the desire to exercise their voice as citizens until there was a problem. I doubt that the only reason why the landfill was located in its location was based strictly on the fact that it was next to the Vietnamese community. All the while when they did decide they were not going to tolerate the actions of the government and outside experts, they did have a reasonable request for simply wanting a liner put on the landfill. In the end the way the Vietnamese were treated through out the hurricane Katrina disaster was unjust but in my opinion they could have had a hand in it playing out differently and their environmental injustice was not strictly to blame on the government and experts.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Reflection Essay – Experts

Experts have played a mixed role in environmental justice issues like that of the New Orleans recovery from Hurricane Katrina. However, the role of local knowledge and grassroots organizations has in my opinion played an even more significant role than that of the experts. Moreover,  experts can in some cases be part of the problem. For instance, during the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, experts were unwilling to provide adequate help to returnees who were trying to work within the government system to rebuild. The unwillingness of the government experts left the responsibility up to local businesses and action groups to clean up the mess. Furthermore, it allowed for outsider experts (i.e. The Urban Land Institute) to come in and take over the redevelopment of New Orleans without the input of the many thousands of African Americans and Vietnamese citizens who were not able to return.

Katrina left New Orleans devastated in 2005 but the communities of the Lower Ninth and of East New Orleans were left at an even bigger disadvantage. Furthermore, the lack of aid provided by FEMA and the EPA to these communities just made rebuilding and recovering even harder to cope with. After Katrina hit and the city was re-opened for people to come back in and fix their neighborhoods, many did not return because they lacked necessary items like transportation, temporary housing, food, water and supplies for rebuilding. The political experts including the Mayor of New Orleans did not provide the returnees with these necessary items and yet they expected everyone to come back to their houses. In reality the affluent white population returned and invested in rebuilding their communities but the poorer African American community did not have the capability to get back. Ultimately it was the aid of activist groups and neighborhood grassroots organizations that helped to get the African American community and the Vietnamese community back to their houses.

For the Vietnamese community of Versailles in East New Orleans it was the determination and tight-knit quality of their community that helped them achieve recovery after Katrina. However, even if culture and community is enough to bring back the people, they still need help rebuilding. Solnit (2007) stated “It’s why a lot of people come back, or want to, and it’s a major resource for reclaiming the city—though it can’t replace money and institutional willpower”. This community faced many environmental injustices while trying to rebuild. One of the major ones was the placement of a debris waste facility 1.2 miles away from their village that could hold up to 1/3 of New Orleans’ Katrina debris (Leong et al, 2009).  The Vietnamese community tried to cooperate with the ‘experts’ at the waste facility and suggested that a liner be put in so that it would mitigate some of the harmful effects of a waste facility on their livelihood. However, due to politics (Mayoral and Federal) and the lack of participatory and recognition justice in this community, the landfill was allowed to open. Even when protesting caused the landfill to shut down for testing, the experts could not agree on a testing method and the landfill was once again allowed to be open.

The African American community (the majority of New Orleans) ultimately did not have the capability to organize and return like the Vietnamese community did. Without the help of governmental experts it took them a lot longer to rebuild their communities. Participation from outside organizations and activist groups helped the leaders in the Lower Ninth to organize and find solutions to problems like temporary housing, supplies, and labor. However, they were unable to play a significant role in the city’s plan for rebuilding New Orleans. The Urban Land Institute excluded communities like the low income African American community of the Lower Ninth and the Vietnamese community of Versailles. The Institute wanted to rebuild New Orleans smaller, more efficiently, and at the exclusion of low income communities who could not afford to return and participate in the decision making process. Ultimately the experts from the Institute and from the local government took advantage of the lack of representation for these communities.

Overall, I feel like the role of experts was lacking in the emergency planning and recovery of Hurricane Katrina. Expert knowledge can be useful and powerful, however if those in power do not use their expertise, everyone suffers from it. The Urban Land Institute and other engineering companies saw this as an opportunity for economic development and ultimately it forced unjust environmental burdens on the communities of East New Orleans and the Lower Ninth. If local organizations and communities did not join together and seek out the help of activist groups and volunteers, these communities would not have recovered as they did from this disaster.

References:

Solnit, R. (2007, September). The Lower Ninth Battles Back. The Nation. Retrieved February 11, 2013.

Leong, K. J., Airriess, C. A., Li, W., Chen, A. C. C., & Keith, V. M. (2007). Resilient history and the rebuilding of a community: The Vietnamese American community in New Orleans East. The Journal of American History94(3), 770-779.

Categories: Uncategorized

February 21, 2013 2 comments

Hampshire Political Writing Workshop

By Jaime Hamre

Organic, fair trade, locally-produced, all natural, cage free, cruelty free, eco-friendly. An elaborate array of labels and certifications yanks at the conscience of the American consumer at the grocery store, attempting to convince them that by buying certain products over others, they can do their part to create a more equitable food system. The idea of the “Green Economy” is to address the environmental and social problems within the food system by creating a more “ethical” economic market alternative to the mainstream corporate market.

While the Green Economy has made some important gains in enlightening consumers to many issues, the creed of “voting with your fork” – of buying change – is inherently undemocratic, distracting the consumer from taking aim at the deeper issues at the root of our broken food system and reinforcing divisions of race and class.

Participation in the Green Economy “is about how…

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Final EJ Statement of EPA Administrator

February 21, 2013 Leave a comment

What are your thoughts on the final comments on environmental justice in the US by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson? Check out her statement:   Reducing Pollution For All American Families | Environmental Justice.

Katrina Red Tape..Saga Continues

February 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Check out this article in the The New York Times article (Katrina Red Tape) on the continued struggle of African-American homeowners in New Orleans, now eight years after Katrina. Geog 430 Students: Comments?  Observations?

A Village Called Versailles (Discussion Guide)

February 20, 2013 2 comments

The discussion guide provides important background for the screening of A Village Called Versailles.

From “Buckets” to “Dirt”: Cleaning Up Tonawanda Through Community Testing

February 19, 2013 Leave a comment

Community-based research and monitoring keeps evolving. How do we build new community-based infrastructure to support the advancement of healthy communities? This is the challenge!

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