Home > Uncategorized > The Lack of Recognition Faced by the Village of Versailles.

The Lack of Recognition Faced by the Village of Versailles.

When most people think New Orleans, they tend to think African-American inhabitants, French and Cajun/Bayou culture, and Hurricane Katrina. A group not typically associated with New Orleans is the large Vietnamese community in New Orleans East, Versailles. This community faced many barriers during post-Katrina reconstruction, specifically procedural and distributive injustice through landfill siting practices. However, they were able to overcome these issues because of strong community ties to one another, which brought recognition to their community and issues they were fighting. Evidence for this claim is found in the movie, A Village Called Versailles and the article by Karen J. Leong; Resilient History and the Rebuilding of a Community: The Vietnamese American Community in New Orleans East.

Distributive injustice is evident in the placement of the landfill. The landfill was used to dispose of the post-Katrina debris for the entire city of New Orleans. The hazardous and non-hazardous waste was concentrated in this landfill upriver from the community of Versailles. The residents were supportive of the landfill and the placement, as long as the proper disposal procedures were followed. However, a liner was not installed in the landfill to properly contain the hazardous waste, which allowed for potential contamination of the river.

The Vietnamese community experiences procedural injustice from the Urban Land Institute (ULI). The ULI excluded the village of Versailles from the reconstruction plan. The top right corner of the reconstruction map proposed by the ULI ended right before the community of Versailles. City planners, as well as other decision makers involved in this issue, did not recognize that Versailles even existed, even though it is technically a part of New Orleans. The Vietnamese people struggled for recognition of their community and involvement in the decision-making process.

The Vietnamese were able to rebuild their community at a very quick rate compared to other groups, such as African Americans. Many people attributed the difference in rebuilding to to stereotypical beliefs about the various groups; Asian Americans are hard working and self sufficient, whereas African Americans just want to wait around for the government to save them. In reality, both groups believed that federal government assistance was necessary to rebuild, and their communities had not received the assistance they deserved from the state and city. The difference in the strength of the communities is the key to understanding the difference in ability to rebuild between the Vietnamese and the other minorities.

The strong sense of community between members of the community of Versailles helped them battle the environmental injustice that was taking place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Karen Leong describes the common status and history held by the Vietnamese people. Most of the Vietnamese inhabitants in this community were refugees from Vietnam. This history enabled them to form strong bonds between one another, which in turn created a strong informed community. Through common experiences and hardships, these Vietnamese people found relocation due to the hurricane to be less threatening than relocation from their homeland of Vietnam. Leong explains how this sense of community eventually allowed for over 90 percent of the Vietnamese Americans to return to Versailles by 2007. Through the determination fueled by others in the community, these Vietnamese Americans were able to bring recognition to their community and issues.

Lack of recognition, distributive injustice, and procedural injustice all played vital roles for the Vietnamese citizens when the livelihood of their community was at stake. The small amount of recognition to these people and their burdens did not stop their desire to rebuild. By banding together and stepping up as a united community these people were able to rebuild what Hurricane Katrina destroyed.

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