Thursday, June 01, 2006

Why New Orleans Means so Much

I was talking to a friend at work today. She is somewhat older than I, African-American and as nice and thoughtful as a person can be. As usual, I was talking about New Orleans. Her husband is a well-known and respected artist and musician who has been trying for years to analyze and come up with a philosophy on what it means to be black. I think he does a very good job. He is interesting and thoughtful and intelligent. He spends a lot of time thinking and finding ways to express those thoughts. According to his wife, it's all about legacy. I miss New Orleans. It is my home. Neither my mother or father are from New Orleans, albeit Louisiana, but I am. The culture of that place is what I know best. It has shaped my being and my outlook. I have celebrated and mourned there, laughed and cried, fallen in love and grown despondent, etc. This is to be expected in your home.
However, there is something more powerful and profound. It is called legacy. Legacy is not just your home. It is not just family. It is an amalgamation of your home (and its culture), your friends, your family and its history. It is not just somewhere you rest your head. It is somewhere nearly everyone you know rests their heads. And your parents, and their parents, and their parents, etc. That is something you are given. It is a gift that your family bestows on you because you are part of the family. And in New Orleans this is a very powerful agent. Our New Orleans society relies heavily on legacy (in parades and Mardi Gras Indians and clubs and schools (good or bad) and restaurants and neighborhoods and so on) in very many visible ways.
Five years ago, to some extent, I left New Orleans by choice. I desperately want to return. But I can make a choice. My house was not flooded, my memories not destroyed, and my belongings not left out to be hauled away to the landfill of the week. There are people who can't make it home, who have lost everything that they ever worked for, whose familial legacies are in danger of being broken forever and new legacies started somewhere else.
My friend said that this power, the power of your personal legacy, defies time and place. Her family has many ministers and religious people in it. (I reflected on my own family - teachers - weird how many there are...) The familial lines will continue, but the vibrant and visible pageantry and familiarity of the rich legacy that existed so willfully and obviously in New Orleans could be gone - erased by Katrina, ignored by FEMA, and forgotten.

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