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Callaloo 29.4 (2007) 1088-1094

Leo Esclamado
with Charles Henry Rowell

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Figure 1
Leo Esclamado
Photo by Wendell Gorden, © 2006
[End Page 1088]

ROWELL: How did you become interested in working with the Vietnamese community in New Orleans, especially with its landfill problem?

ESCLAMADO: This problem was brought to my attention through the work I was doing with a national non-profit social justice organization I was working with. I am now serving on a one-year fellowship through the National Alliance of Vietnamese American Service Agencies (NAVASA). My last semester at the University of Florida was with an internship program, The Washington Center, in Washington, DC.

ROWELL: When did you begin working?

ESCLAMADO: I began working here in late May, 2006. The city had just turned on traffic lights in some places. The hurricane had hit back in August, 2005

ROWELL: You are from Florida, another hurricane ridden state. You have seen the impact of hurricanes on Florida's cities and towns. What was your general impression of the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans?

ESCLAMADO: Hurricane damage in Florida is usually wind damage, with massive trees and debris down and vegetables and fruits strewn everywhere. What's unique about New Orleans is that it was damaged by wind and stayed flooded with water, with some areas were not pumped out until early September. The lack of communications within bureaus was an alarming situation for me, and also the absence of people in the majority of eastern New Orleans. A lot of the larger business districts and infrastructure in eastern New Orleans—malls, grocery stores and hospitals—have yet to return. If you drive along Interstate 10 from the east to uptown, you can notice the major disparities of rebuilding between communities.

ROWELL: Do you know what cause the problem in communications among government agencies? [End Page 1089]

ESCLAMADO: In state and city government, there was a lot of conflict—conflict dealing with who has the authority to call an evacuation. There was an issue of jurisdiction. There was no existing system to address those needs.

ROWELL: What is the specific nature of your work in New Orleans?

ESCLAMADO: I'm working on the landfill campaign that has emerged out of the emergency planning, or the lack planning, in eastern New Orleans and in the greater New Orleans with a newly formed community development group, MQVN CDC. It is short for the Mary Queen of Viet Nam Community Development Corporation. My work is part of NAVASA's mission. It's aim is to develop technical capacity for local community based organizations. One of the obstacles in this long-term process was the landfill campaign against the mayor Nagin's executive order to create and use a landfill next to the predominately Vietnamese American community for all of the construction and demolition debris. He mandated the landfill a few months after the storm. Most of my work has focused on educating local community leaders and politicians about the detrimental effects of the landfill. I have also been working with the community to organize the shutdown of the landfill and for the removal of the debris.

ROWELL: Before we discuss the detrimental effects of the landfill, will you talk about the history of the city's casting off rubbish from the hurricane near the Vietnamese American community. Can you just give a brief history of how that came about? When did the city decide to place a landfill near the community?

ESCLAMADO: The landfill was originally ordered right after the restriction of Old Gentilly, another landfill in eastern New Orleans. It's probably about four miles away from this landfill, which is called Chef Menteur, the landfill that mayor Nagin ordered. Old Gentilly had already been cited by a lot of environmental groups for its lack of ground water monitoring and its failure to meet other environmental requirements, FEMA also had requested a study and found possibilities of federal liabilities. National levee expert, Dr. Bob Bea also stated this landfill can presently compromise the...


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