Monday, June 28, 2010

Gulf Coast: Mississippi

A friend and I just recently got home after a 10 day road trip to the gulf coast and back. The point of our trip was to travel along the gulf coast, interview and listen to people's stories about the effects of the oil spill.

The first places we visited along the Gulf were Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pass Christian Mississippi, none of which have seen oil quite yet. The first night we were there, we were told a good place to find local fishermen was Shaggy's Harbor Bar & Grill in Pass Christian. After sitting at the bar for a while we began talking to a local fisherman named Gerald. Gerald told us he originally from Chicago and he moved to Mississippi to fish. He expressed his frustration through the phrase, "we can put a man on the moon, but we can't put a cap on this thing?" He also expressed his fear of eating local seafood due to the dispersants being released in the water in order to break up the oil. He told us that there has been minimal research on the affects this type of enzyme has on fish and sea creatures.

The next day we attended a Vietnamese press conference in Biloxi that's purpose was to address the concer
ns of the local Vietnamese American boat people. The frustrations of the Vietnamese in the area have occurred due to the lack of representation and assistance . The press conference had representatives from Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. It also had speakers from various generations. My first observation upon arriving at the Vietnamese dock in Biloxi was the condition the dock was in. The dock was extremely weathered and had large gaps in it. The dock was in such bad condition that there were planks placed across the big gaps just in order to continue to use the dock. We learned that the condition of this city-owned dock was the result of Hurricane Katrina and the city has failed to fix it, even after all other docks in the area since then, have been fixed. This is a blatant example of racism.

The first person to speak was a Vietnamese Mississippi representative. She spoke broken English but she communicated well, her concern over how local people treat the Vietnamese in the area as aliens. She emphasized her American citizenship being received in 1990 and her husband's being received in 1987. One of the important things she mentioned was the difficulty with BP's compensation packages. Mortgages on many of Vietnamese fishing boats cost more than the boats are worth and BP is only paying back the worth of the boats. She threw out the number $450,000 for the average cost of a boat mortgage and then mentioned how BP is only compensating $350,000. Without work, the Vietnamese fishers can not make that $100,000 difference.
The next speakers were Tony Cao and Linda Nguyen, both from "Voice of the Youth". Their argument was that their parent's generation only knows how to fish and with the oil spill, they will not be able to do even that. The local Vietnamese need job security and training in other areas in order to live normal lives. Once of the areas that Linda focused on was the need for BP to hire local interpreters in order to provide jobs.
Chou Chin was the next speaker and he was from Houma, Louisiana. Chou was one of the only boat owners in the area who was not hired by BP to be an oil skimmer. He apparently did not meet the "criteria," even after applying multiple times. Chou expressed his sadness over the probability of never being able to shrimp again.
One of the last speakers was Wing Wen. He spoke at the press conference in place of his father who has been forced to leave his family and move further west in order to fish. His father was not hired by BP to look for oil.

The evening after
the Vietnamese press conference, we headed back to Shaggy's in order to find some more fishermen and other workers in the area. We were introduced to a man named Randy who works for the electric company and does his own non-commercial fishing between the coast and the barrier islands off the coast of Mississippi. He talked to us about a fishery meeting held downstairs at Shaggy's a couple nights prior to our visit. He told us about the concerns that were expressed at the meeting. The main concern was over outsiders moving into Mississippi, shrimping, fishing and being hired to look for oil by BP, because they can not do so elsewhere. Randy told us about how local people with boats should be the first to be hired by BP to look for oil, instead of people who are coming in from other areas along the coast looking for work.
While visiting Shaggy's for the second time, we made a contact with Keith, the manager and bar tender. He gave us his phone number and told us to call him in a month when the oil is predicted to hit the Mississippi coast, and he would provide us with the truth of what is going on.

...More to come...


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  2. Very interesting (and sad) stuff. I look forward to more. Keep it up!

    EDIT - Fixing typos