Ten Years Since: A Meditation on New Orleans
This anniversary is a crossroads, a time to decide what to run toward and what to cast aside for a lighter burden. Ten years ago, I was a “refugee” from an American city. The consequence of that label has been a chaos of circumstances and quick decisions. The first 10 years, all a scramble to reconstruct oneself. The truth is, I am one of the lucky ones. One of the luckiest. I am home. I am sane. I am alive to speak for myself. I mourn for those lost and struggle with the gratitude and guilt of being spared. Survival is an animal instinct that moves us all toward good and bad, and I am doing my best with its weight. In these 10 years, I’ve learned to use this realization to heat and cool my anxiety, to forgive myself and propel my body into motion. There is so much about the last 10 years that I would rather forget, experiences I would remake. But it is not possible to go backward. There is only what is, and right now the stakes are high. New Orleans changes for good, a little bit at a time, every day. Houses in my neighborhood flip at sometimes three times their pre-Katrina “worth.” For white families in the new New Orleans, the median income has grown at triple the rate of black families’ income. It’s no wonder many are insistent that New Orleans is back and better than ever. There are roughly 100,000 fewer black people in the metro area. Old people out; new people in. It is critical not to cede the story at its crossroads.
Raised black in New Orleans and having made it to this side of these 10 years, I remember that with living comes the sacred responsibility of recalling. New Orleans has always been a place of many peoples. The Chata (Choctaw) named the city Bulbancha, “Many Languages Spoken There,” and the Ishak call it Nun Ush, “The Big Village.” Many of the places and locations known to tourists and travelers worldwide, such as the Port of New Orleans, the French Market, and Congo Square, served as thoroughfares for trade and culture long before the arrival of whites. Born and raised black in New Orleans, I speak an English marked by its African and Native vocabularies and patterns of speech. I like my short adjectives repeated two and three times each. The food is good-good and the picture might be pretty-pretty-pretty. I grew up with a distinct awareness of our longstanding ties to this land and the people who originally inhabited it. New Orleans is our place, a place with a syncretic and independent culture and a multilayered relationship to the diaspora—a relationship not of theory, but of practice.
Excerpt from Ten Years Since: A Meditation on New Orleans © 2015 by Kristina Kay Robinson. Used with permission from The Nation.