Fighting Poverty with Passion
‘Home’ is sort of a strange word. I have all these reasons to be thinking about it. I work with a community of immigrants who were born half a world away and don’t speak English natively. I am in a program mostly filled with people who weren’t born or raised in the South at all, myself included. And maybe most critically is the fact that I am on a plane headed west, headed back to California and my families.
New Orleans has a strange relationship with its immigrants both foreign and domestic. Being a place so unique and aware of its own existence, it embraces strangers – it even teaches strangers, but strangers will always be strangers. If you are not raised in New Orleans, you can’t be New Orleanian. You can be in New Orleans, but you can’t be from New Orleans. So where does that leave a Californian who doesn’t want to move back? I think in an honest place, and that is just fine with me. New Orleans can be where I go back to, home maybe, but it can’t be ‘Home’. It can’t be my roots, because it wasn’t and you can’t fake it in NOLA.
Not all strangers or newcomers get the same treatment. The longer you’re here maybe the more harsh it is, the more honest. Tourists, in and out again, get the best treatment. Yet, they know nothing, only learning the wisdoms or facts that are easy to swallow, easy to sell. Tulane students, bubbled in for four years, tend to learn the most about their “college town” from when they fulfill their public service requirement. This gives them a reason, and safe passage, to go into the Treme and Central City- places that are unforgiving, but full of wisdom and experience.
Being on the cusp of 2014, we will soon be ten years out from Hurricane Katrina. This storm caused so many to leave, but also so many to come. The Latino influx into the city was large. These people stayed, many finding other jobs besides gutting houses. Having stayed longer than the tourists, having stayed longer than the students, they are more settled. And, being more settled they get the bad with the good. A persistent lack of social services, a single OPD officer speaking Spanish, little access to English education or any public adult education, all terrible thanks to a community who came when others stayed away. Poor thanks to those who built the city day after day as the volun-tourist petered thin. When it wasn’t brave or courageous or sexy anymore, these people were still building. And, while many have moved on, many are still doing that building work.
Then again ‘Home’ is rarely forgiving, New Orleans or otherwise. And New Orleans is nothing if not honest. It has a lot to teach, and it has a lot of good, and it knows how to celebrate, but it is not always the best at apologies or making it up to you.