Oil Spill Takes a Toll on All, but Gulf Minorities Feel Marginalized Again

Ben Sandmel, Politics Daily, July 15, 2010

Although the BP oil spill may finally be stopped for good, there is no gush of relief and jubilation in southeast Louisiana. {snip}

The entire populace–every racial, cultural, ethnic, neighborhood and socio-economic group–has been seriously affected. {snip} As a result, some communities with a historic sense of alienation are feeling marginalized yet again.

The very existence of an African-American commercial fishing community, for instance, has seemingly surprised some local and national media outlets. As Byron Encalade, the African-American president of the Louisiana Oystermen’s Association, put it, “Until [U.S. Reps.] Maxine Waters and Sheila Jackson Lee came down recently to check out the spill situation first-hand, hardly anyone knew that African-American and Native American oystermen and fishermen even lived in Plaquemines Parish.” {snip}

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The Asian community, fishermen included, is also ably represented by Father Vien Nguyen. Formerly the priest at Mary Queen of Vietnam, a Catholic church in the Versailles section of the far-flung neighborhood called New Orleans East, Nguyen now works in the central office of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He also serves as chairman of the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corp. In this latter role Nguyen has shown extreme grit and skill as a community organizer. One of Nguyen’s many successes was spearheading a campaign of demonstrations that stymied construction of a huge landfill in Versailles.

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“There are guys like me,” he [Encalade] went on, “who have invested over $100,000 in boats, and I was just starting to earn that money back. It’s supposed to be tax deductible because it’s an investment back in your business. So to be compensated by BP in a way that doesn’t give consideration for all the funds spent on reinvestment, that’s wrong.

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Striking a similar chord, while sitting next to an out-of-work fisherman named Thiet Tran, Father Vien used a religious metaphor: “We in the Vietnamese community been crucified on many Good Fridays. But, always, Easter has come.”

Encalade is particularly concerned about the African-American community, because “with so many generational injustices, some black people become mental victims. They tend to draw back with an attitude of ‘what’s the use of trying; we’ll just get the same old thing again.’ But this fight is not just about African-Americans. If that door opens for me, everyone else will be able to come through it, too. Many others, including plenty of white people, are suffering these injustices, too.” Encalade went on to describe Plaquemines Parish as “a classic American melting pot, a true gumbo,” proudly noting his military service in the Wolf Hound Regiment of the 25th Infantry.

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“People say that if you support the moratorium then you are disloyal to Louisiana. Well, when is Louisiana going to be loyal to its own? And why should the poorest people always pay the consequences for the wealthiest?”

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