Those of us who were able to leave the city of New Orleans before the hurricane are scattered and waiting to return to begin again. From such places as Shreveport and Baton Rouge, we receive reports of rapes, looting, shooting and fires. Yesterday I stood before the television in my hosts’ home, stunned at hearing that Jefferson Parish residents will be able to return home beginning Monday.
To many people, home is simply the most recent place they’ve worked or lived. These are the people who wonder why we bother living there. New Orleanians have ties that go back many generations. My own family goes back to slavery and freedom there. And there is no way I will not return on the first possible date.
Americans know New Orleans primarily as a tourist destination, a playground of vacationers and wealthy businessmen. The fact is that this is one of the greatest cities this country has known. It is unique in the history of the nation and through such industries as oil and gas, shipping and transportation and the growth and spread of jazz and the music culture that has grown out of it. It has provided the backbone for much of what the rest of the world knows and thinks of as “American.”
Years ago we were dubbed “the City that Care Forgot,” “Big Easy” and “Silver City,” not only because we knew how to enjoy life but because we were and are an open-handed and open-hearted people.
The city that has played host not only to the nation but to the world is now stranded. Those of us who have family and friends to take us in are the fortunate ones. The masses of people who have populated the world’s television screens for the past week are the poor, the broken. If they are in any way refugees, however, the refuge they seek is from the race and class prejudice and neglect that comes with being black and poorer than most Americans can imagine.
New Orleanians are a people of unimaginable strength and resilience. Great fallen cities have been rebuilt since ancient times. And New Orleans will be rebuilt as a great city. When we rebuild it, we will again host the world. Tell that to the world again and again.