Thursday, August 16, 2007

Home... home.

[I apologize in advance to my small out-of-town readership for the "going off" that is to come in this entry... Your girl's on edge, as anyone would be looking at this:]
Ordinarily I swell with pride when we drive over the I-10 high rise into New Orleans, back from another of our trips back east to Atlanta. The high rise affords a spectacular view of the city, and even post-K I've seen that view and gotten goosebumps.

This time was different, and when we finally pulled up to our house, I switched off the car's ignition and said, "I don't want to be here."

The truth is, I don't want to be anywhere else, either. We found a good Mexican restaurant in Copperhill, Tennessee. We stopped for fried pork skins at "Carol Sue's Unique Funnel Cakes." We giggled at the sign in Ducktown, TN, endearing: "Welcome to Ducktown--A Quacking Good Place." There was evidence of a life we could enjoy in the N. Georgia and Tennessee mountains.

But what we missed were minorities. In fact, I'm always missing minorities when we go to whiter areas of the country. I don't get why on earth people would want to live around a whole bunch of people carbon copies of themselves, which may be one reason why I've loved New Orleans for so long--the people here who are just like me are just like me because they want the same things as I do: diversity, a joyful daily life, music.

It's just that now all of these things are what we have to fight for, and I find that I'm not feeling up to the whole push and struggle anymore. Two years later, it's still the push and struggle. Two years later things feel the same, only worse.

And then, two years later, we returned from vacation to learn that our local political hero, councilman Oliver Thomas, was guilty of accepting bribes. (Calling him a hero is a bit of an overstatement, but he was an excellent cheerleader for our city, and he had the rare support of both blacks and whites in the city. Any unifier these days makes you feel good.) We watched his speech on TV, dumbfounded. I wanted to cry.

Instead, I am diving back into my work. School starts on Monday, and I'm trying to get my syllabi revised and my new fiction-workshop planned without becoming too distracted by the movement of Hurricane Dean. Today I have an appointment for a haircut, and I plan to pick up an extra cat carrier at Petco just in case. Just in case, I'll fill up the gas tank.

In the meantime, the media has been doing its two-year bit, and relatives and friends are taking notice. No one notices when the Corps announces they've given up on Category Five levee protection--we get no angry letters to Congress written on our behalf. We are left to do these things for ourselves. Instead, when TIME magazine publishes a feature, when National Geographic publishes a feature, we get concerned emails and calls. No one comes right out and says it, but I can tell they are thinking, Why are you still there? Do you really think your city has any chance? Isn't it about time you gave up?

I get angry. I want to say: What do you care? What are you doing about it? Isn't it about time you started thinking about this city's recovery as YOUR problem, too?

I am sick, sick, sick of the way the rest of the U.S. is just tsk-tsking us and opening their worried motherly arms: come home, come here!

This is home. I know you can't understand that, but you don't need to: you just need to understand what a home is.

Sometimes, I suspect that what separates those who love New Orleans from the rest of the U.S. is our understanding of home.

And so even though I came home and felt a bit, myself, like (yes) giving, up, we will stay. We will stay because this is home. It sure would be nice if that mattered to the rest of the U.S.--enough that we didn't have to come home--every day for the past two years--to more push and struggle. That is not home. Or at least it shouldn't be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, we have more minorities in Copperhill now than we used to, by far. When I was growing up (I'm 33), there were two black kids in my school. That was it. Now we have several black families and lots of Mexican families here. It's nice to see something besides the same old milk white faces. :P Racism runs much less rampant here than it did a decade ago, thank God.

Oh, and yeah--the Mexican restaurant is awesome, isn't it? :)