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Hurricane Katrina is Coming…Back


Keep Off Hipsters (Photo: Tumblr, Sam Ballen)

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.

  • Argol

    New Orleans, as any living city, is a city in flux. The city changed when the immigration from Haïti came in the early 1800’s, it changed again when the population swelled with immigrants from the South and the North following the end of the Civil War. It changed with the immigration of Irish in the late 1800s and again with the immigration of Sicilians a few years later. The wave of immigrants from Central America in the 1960’s also had a huge impact. Don’t forget the Vietnamese in the 1970’s. We are a port city, our population is ever shifting, nothing written in the shifting sands of the River lasts for long. But New Orleans remains and She will remain until we are washed out to sea.

  • sraw

    Good piece. I agree. Whether it’s Katrina or any other past big event, and even many more minor anniversaries, our culture has a fetish about round numbers, especially if they involve death. It’s led by a media that has nothing better to talk about, mainly avoiding any substantial discussion of current problems and their actual roots, focusing rather on sensational fluff. Of course there’s a reason why the corporations and the rich, who own virtually all major media, want to distract us from the theft and murder they’re committing every day.

  • JohnInTucson

    The anniversary will come and go. The attention will peak and then fade. But for many, this is just another marker in time – it’s been 10 years and some folks are still trying to get back into their homes. Search online for Errol and Esther Joseph and read the story done on them in the New York times in February of 2013. After 10 years of work and frustration, they are about to return to their home this month. Same thing with George Brooks. These and many other success stories were facilitated by lowernine.org. This is an organization that uses volunteers (many thousands of them by now) with guidance by skilled project managers to help homeowners recover and return to their homes in the Lower Ninth Ward. The larger discussions of gentrification and changes in the city and property values and short-term rentals and all that may swirl around during this anniversary. But those issues are discussed elsewhere. For lowernine.org, this is about helping homeowners, the vast majority of whom are African American, return to their homes. The help goes to those who lived in the Lower Ninth Ward before the flood and who will use their restored home as their primary residence. So far, 75 homes have been completely recovered and 200 smaller projects have been completed by lowernine.org. The Katrina anniversary, as unpleasant a memory as it is for many, is being used as a fund raising occasion for lowernine.org’s #50States Campaign. Given the good work being done by this great organization, I am grateful for the attention during this “round number” anniversary. My wife and I are proud to be involved with lowernine.org. Perhaps some of you reading this will browse to lowernine.org and become involved too. If the anniversary is annoying or troubling to you, here’s a chance to find some good in it.

  • DrBOP