Field Report Feb./March 2016 – Tulane City Center
In which the author asks herself a lot of questions. Like a lot.
Whew, my first week as a VISTA has come and gone, and living and working in New Orleans is already making me ask so many questions — about my burgeoning VISTA year, volunteering in general, this city, and myself. I came across this Zapatista quote the other day in Jordan Flaherty’s Floodlines (really cool book that looks at post-Katrina New Orleans through a grassroots organizing lens — what up New Orleans Public library!).
(above photo) Current book that I’m reading and loving, and source of my motto for the week, the VISTA year, and most likely the rest of my life.
I feel like that quote captures what I’ve been feeling lately: “Walking, we ask questions,” which I take to mean: Self-doubt shouldn’t be or feel paralyzing. Likewise, life shouldn’t be about doing, doing, doing, without any time for self-reflection.
(above photo) A panorama photo of last night’s Red Beans and Rice Roundtable, hosted by Sue Mobley, the community engagement manager at the City Center. At the Roundtable, four panelists, ranging from the owner of the museum at the Whitney Plantation to local artist and activist Brandon “Bmike” Odums, answered a wide range of questions from audience members on privilege, power, the legacy of slavery, and memorials. (The event also gave me a lot of fodder for self-reflection.)
So, with the Zapatista quote in mind, instead of summing up what’s it like to be a n00b at the City Center, learning how to pronounce Tchopitoulas (“Chop-a-tool-uhs” for you non-initiated aka me five days ago), or eating gumbo for the first time, I’ve listed some big questions swirling around in my brain lately, for your reading pleasure. And if you have questions or answers of your own in response, I would love to hear them too.
- How do I (or the City Center) define community in NOLA? As an outsider/transplant, should I even be coming up with the definitions, or more asking people who live here how they define themselves and who they see as part of their community?
- In post-Katrina NOLA, where as of 2010 100,000 people were still displaced from New Orleans, how does the definition of “community” change?
- How do I form authentic relationships/friendships with people from NOLA (and not just VISTA members and folks affiliated with Tulane)?
- How does my identity as a white, affluent, able-bodied, college-educated, Jewish, cis-female impact (negatively and positively) my VISTA work?
- What does it mean to do volunteer work in a city once inundated by short-term foreign volunteers?
- What are barriers/critiques to non-profit work? How can non-profits’ interests reflect those of the people it works with/for, instead of their funders’ interests?