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Reflection Essay over “A Village called Versailles” (Revised)

Mohammad Umer Shafiq

Reflection Essay over “A Village called Versailles”

 

                Procedural justice is one of the aspects of environmental justice, and the major theme in the case of “A Village called Versailles”. Procedural justice is the idea that everyone has equal chance, opportunity, and voice in the democratic process. Procedural justice also deals with access to information and access to justice. Without meaningful opportunities to participate in decision making a community may feel invisible.  Problems such as the location of landfills or rezoning of land for other use can affect a community in a negative way. These problems occur when the right to a fair process is prohibited or inhibited, as in the case with Versailles. Versailles is an area in eastern New Orleans that has a predominately Vietnamese population. Versailles was part of the areas of New Orleans that were heavily damaged in the hurricane.

                After the events of Hurricane Katrina, the government of New Orleans decided on a plan to rebuild New Orleans into a better version. The plan added green zones to prevent flooding, added new housing, and destroyed old unwanted housing. The area that Versailles covered was zoned to become a green zone, without asking if those who lived in that area where fine with the zoning. The Vietnamese population was angered by the governments lack to consider the local community in the decision. The older generation of Vietnamese compared the situation to becoming refugees, similarly to when they left Vietnam for America. It seems as if the Vietnamese idea of justice was different from what the New Orleans government idea of Justice was. To add to the new zoning, the government decided to build a waste dump that was less than two miles away from Versailles. The dump was said to be a necessity for all of the waste that Hurricane Katrina created. The dump would take in all kinds of waste, including toxic, and would create many health and environmental risks. Similar to the zoning situation, the Vietnamese population in Versailles were not informed or allowed a say in the situation.

                The Vietnamese population in Versailles felt as if they had become an invisible population. Before the hurricane, the Vietnamese population did not participate in the democratic process mostly because they did not know how to or found no need for it. Many of the older generations could not read or speak English, adding another barrier for them to pass. Some corporations and governments use complex information and languages incorrect for the public to make the process more difficult. This should never happen, the government is supposed to make it easier and fair for the public. After the hurricane they found the need to participate since the hazard was in their own backyard.  This ideology seems somewhat prevalent in the United States; most people do not want to spend the extra effort of entering the participatory system or may not believe that the system works until the problem personally affects them. The Vietnamese found a reason to fight or enter the procedural process, the taking or their homes and livelihood. The Vietnamese started to make their voice heard during public town meeting, voicing concern and disapproval of the landfill. They were concerned with: what types of waste were being dumped, the close proximity to their houses, and the incorrect lining that could cause seepage into the environment. Initially it seems that the landfill would be closed until analysis of the site was completed, although Mayor Nagin did not follow through and left the site open due to pressure from others in New Orleans.  Being able to voice your concerns in the democratic process does not guarantee that the correct choice will be made; it just means that the decision makers may consider the voiced concerns. Although initially the procedural process did not gain the results the Vietnamese wanted, it allows for check and balances. The Vietnamese used protesting and the media to help gain influence in the decision making process. Making their injustices public helped them gain more support from other citizens and even public officials. This later led to more community involvement by all races affected by the new New Orleans plan. The procedural aspect of environmental justice although may not be the quickest pathway to justice, it allows for multiple chances at achieving justice. The Vietnamese used these multiple chances to fight for justice.

 

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