(photo credit: Mr. Greenjeans)
In a few months it’ll be 10 years since I moved to New Orleans. I grew up in Illinois and spent several years in Mississippi and Florida before I finally made it to New Orleans for good. Louisiana though? That’s what I can’t quite believe. I have a Louisiana drivers license–obviously, I’ve had one for a decade. But it’s not a match. It’s not me.
Prior to moving here I always made it a point to get to know the region where I lived. Not systematically, mind you, but I did a lot of driving around in high school and college–in Illinois, Mississippi, and Florida. Wandering. Looking. Seeing, I like to think. Parenthood has eaten into that, and the fact that we’re a bi-racial family has probably played a role as well. When I wander I like to go to places I have no business going, and doing that with a family, particularly a bi-racial family in the South, is something I can’t help but feel uneasy about, at least outside Orleans Parish. It’s not just me I have to be concerned about; it’s the people I love more than me.
Which is why we’re in New Orleans. On the street, you are rarely certain of anyone else’s racial composition, and if you are certain, you’re either just plain wrong or getting only part of the story, missing the brothers and aunts and cousins, friends and acquaintances and business associates, etc., all serving to undermine the relevance of racial categories, or at the least make the categories seem not so distinct. (Given the many paradoxes of race in America, however, it’s not surprising what a central role race plays in local politics). But New Orleans has something else going on. Its port city history surely made it a more open and loose place, spawning jazz and a disproportionate number of artists and other misfits, and even today out on the street, despite the violence and ugliness of the seeming endless Katrina related “debris,” the people here do it their own way. Just the other day I was riding my bike on Dryades Street in Central City and I passed a dark skinned man with a thick beard in a dainty flower print dress, purse dangling from his shoulder. Nobody messes with him–or her, if you will. I see him regularly, in fact. S/he belongs. That’s aside from race, I know, but it speaks to something beyond simple polite tolerance (the kind you see on TV). It’s acceptance, and it says a lot about the charm of living here. It’s a place I can’t help but believe is capable of greatness, despite all that was screwed up before Katrina and still today.
But Louisiana…I’ll spare you the Googled statistics. We–I use that loosely, very loosely–are at the bottom of all the lists. Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, you know the drill. It’s all bad news and I don’t think Bobby Jindal is the answer.
Back in the day after Katrina there used to be a lot of talk of seceding from the Union, getting bought out by the French or starting our own Freak Republic. But what about just seceding from the state of Louisiana? We could auction ourselves off to the other states, maybe strike a deal with California, or stick with our Mississippi River brethren and offer ourselves up to Illinois or Minnesota?
If you have family and friends dispersed across Louisiana, rest assured I’m not interested in closing any borders. We should honor and celebrate our Louisiana roots, but going forward, let’s keep our options open.\
[Note: To see a revision of this post go here.]