Hurricane Katrina is coming…back.
Everywhere I look, everything I read, everything I hear is about Katrina and how New Orleans has “come back” in the 10 years since the Federal Flood. (Including OffBeat this August—well, we’re in local media, so we can’t exactly ignore it, can we?).
Both local newspapers have been covering the storm, its devastation, its aftermath, our recovery, our future glory, and blah, blah, blah ad nauseam. Ditto local television. Even media outside New Orleans (example, the New York Times).
But I have to tell you I am already so sick of it, and the real anniversary is still three weeks away. Yes, I know it’s a humongous news story; it actually is something that’s creating news, and the print media has been especially ravenous searching for new angles to cover the anniversary. And anything that creates news, well, the media is all over that. It’s even displacing the question on who will participate in the upcoming Republican debate (oh, wait, does anyone in New Orleans really care about that?).
To be perfectly honest, I’m sick to death of hearing about Katrina, because in some ways, it’s like reliving the horror, the anxiety, the hurt and loss, all over again. There are too many people who lost everything—houses, jobs, family members, businesses, histories, relationships, even their own home town—for me to want to go through it again. It’s been a decade, but that’s just not long enough. I still sort of get sick to my stomach when I think about what we all went through and don’t want to experience again. Ever.
It’s a cliché that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Well, I’m strong enough, thank you very much. I don’t want to be the subject of a news story anymore. I suppose that we can all look at that terrible time as a blessing in disguise: it brought new life and new blood and new ideas and different industries to a city that had almost been flooded into oblivion. That’s a good thing. It brought in people to this area who never considered living here before. It also made us more forward-thinking and nimble in its approach to getting things done. But it’s also had a clearly negative effect in some ways: It made the city more white, more affluent and snobbish (it’s especially annoying when we get treated like bumpkins because we’re “Southern.”), The real estate market is totally out of control (real estate agents and property speculators who are driving up rentals and home prices would disagree with me on that one). Affordable housing is pretty much out of reach for a lot of the community now, especially the people who have made this city such a unique quirky great place to live: the cultural workers, artists, musicians, and of course, the people who are still working minimum wage jobs (usually more than one, just to make ends meet). It’s never been easy to be poor here, but it was probably more tolerable before Katrina.
We also have an entire cadre of people who have moved to the city because it’s a “cool” and relaxed place to live. I just hope that they can continue to afford to live here.
We’re on a really high note right now, and the celebration of the Katrina anniversary is reinforcing the idea that we are strong and we will survive, and be better than ever.
But better than what? Are we still the same New Orleans? Will our culture be as treasured and perpetuated by people who think we’re hip and, boy, this is so much better than Brooklyn and San Francisco, but why do we have listen to that late night music in the streets? Is technology going to eat us alive, or help us keep it real? Is it possible to stop the exploitation of the culture?
Katrina has been revealed to be both a curse and a blessing in disguise. All we can do is keep the true faith, hope for the best, go with the flow and make sure that we still stay ourselves: true New Orleanians, lovers of the city and perpetuators who continue to fan the flame of the culture.