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Reflection Essay “A Village in Versailles”

Unfortunately Environmental Justice and participatory justice do not always take place; “A village in Versailles” highlights this. The film features a Vietnamese community that moved to America during the Vietnam War time period. The Vietnamese people came to New Orleans and formed a small community in Versailles. The small community had little communication with the outside world and consequentially was socially secluded.

Hurricane Katrina was very devastating for all of New Orleans, but the events following the hurricane made if unfortunate for Versailles. The government’s concern was to rebuild the popular areas in New Orleans, but the rebuilding of Versailles was not a concern. In fact the film stated that the preliminary zoning did not include Versailles.

The main struggle for the Versailles people was to stop the government from building a landfill right next to their community. The reason the government decided to build a landfill was to rid all the debris caused by the hurricane. The landfill would completely devastate the vegetation making the area uninhabitable. The Vietnamese people did not have a voice in deciding where the landfill should be built. This violates participatory justice.

If it is not acceptable to build a landfill in a high class community then it should not be acceptable to build a landfill in any community regardless of social and financial status. Versailles was seen as an unimportant community not worthy of environmental protection. The government cannot quantify if human life is significant or not. From an ethical and legal standpoint all people have equal rights and certainly should not be exposed to environmental injustice. Systematically the government has a great deal of power and should ethically utilize the power in a way that demonstrates equality. There is also a legal obligation to adhere to environmental justice; the 14th amendment in the Constitution states “[no] State [can] deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”. This law encompasses freedom but also environmental justice and the right to own property without there being government imposed health hazards. The landfill would have exposed toxic wastes in the water system and soils. In effect this would have presented the Vietnamese people with two options. The first option would be to move, if they have the resources, or the second option would be to live in an area that is adverse to human health. In this sense the landfill creation would have forfeited the Versailles property and consequentially would have been a Constitutional and an environmental justice violation. Because the Vietnamese community had not been included in the decision process for where the landfill should be built they had to protest and attend city meetings just to make their voices heard. This took away from their lives and caused unnecessary stress. Participatory justice should just occur, and it should not escalate to the level where the affected people need to protest just to get their voices heard.

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