About Not Being From Here

City Life & Neighborhood

January 20th, 2010  5 Comments

A commenter at the G Bitch Spot recently said,


I can’t help but wonder why the term ‘carpetbagger’ is so pervasive – and (the real issue) why so many New Orleanians seem border-line condescending to those who didn’t grow up here.


Leaving aside the “carpetbagger” question (far, far to the side), I thought the “condescending to those who didn’t grow up here” deserves consideration.


I don’t need to toss around links to support this commenter’s claim.  It’s not a revelation by any means.  As a non-native New Orleanian, I’ve certainly felt the condescension s/he refers to.


I have to admit that a lot of the condescension is earned.  As a native Northerner, I know that when we come South we can be a pretty sanctimonious bunch.  I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that.  After living 17 of the last 20 years in the South, the last 12 in New Orleans, I’m resigned to the condescension–to a point.


What I’ve always objected to is how this condescension morphs when combined with nationalistic zeal.  You know, New Orleans chauvinism.  We’re the best city in the world.  Have the best radio station in the universe.   “Only New Orleans is real, the rest is done with mirrors.”


I like that nationalistic thing to a point.  It can be fun, and given what an underdog New Orleans is in almost every conceivable way, it doesn’t seem so brutish.  I even have that “Only New Orleans is real” sign hanging in my office at work.  Plus, there’s basis in fact.  New Orleans is truly that unique.  It deserves to be celebrated–and protected.


But.


When the condescension is simply reflexive, automatically dismissive, then I start pulling at the thread and I ask, Isn’t this on the same continuum as the “blood-relative ordinance” that St. Bernard Parish tried to impose after Katrina?


If we want New Orleans to grow, we need to import people, or outlaw birth control, right?


I say all this not to excuse the stupid things outsiders will say about New Orleans, nor to excuse in any way the damage someone like Ed Blakely has done to the city.


Personally, I cede nothing.  I’ve come to think of myself as having duel citizenship.   I’m a New Orleanian (I have this pet idea that any non-native who lived here before the federal floods and came back is now a naturalized New Orleanian).   And I’m also from that place done with mirrors.  So it’s all good.

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  •   rhetticus_finch     +1   Posted 1682 days ago 

    An interesting topic.
    Here's a native's perspective on that issue:
    First, the condescesion runs both ways. I grew up in Metairie. Once that utterance clears my lips, you can see the "carpetbaggers" eyes' begin to roll. Many, certainly not all, of the newcomers (meaning anyone who was not raised in the area) see Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes as outside New Orleans and residents thereof as outsiders. The truth is that most white "real New Orleanians" now reside in the burbs. It goes back to the 50s/60s/70s with post WW2 real estate development and white flight after civil rights. Yes, it's the South. We have the whole, uncomfortable history with race relations (It's still there but getting better).You are talking about families rooted in N.O. for 3, 4, 5, or more generations. They are the "yat" culture that many outsiders come in & try to emulate(some do so more successfully than others). I went to high school in Gentilly with white and black guys from all over the metro area. I grew up amid crawfish boils, Saints games, bounce rap, Mardi Gras, king cake parties, go cups, etc. yet somehow, because my childhood home was a couple miles to the west of Orleans Parish, I'm less genuine a New Orleanian than some Tulane kid who has lived in the Riverbend for 3 years. I now live Uptown, which is becoming more dominated by "hip, trendy" 20-30 somethings who are not from here. I certainly have nothing against them for moving here nor for being hip. However, there is definitely a vibe that some(I repeat, "some") newcomers put off that I'm not as "real" New Orleanian as them because I don't wear a trendy hat and hipster clothing and because my childhood was spent in the nearby burbs instead of growing up in the heart of the city. As a native in my own hometown, it's a bit annoying. There are also the contingent who try to tell natives how "they should" do things, as if they are coming here to instruct indigenous tribes on advanced Western ways of doing things. Those are the types that natives could definitely do without.
    That being said, I absolutely welcome any "carpetbagger" who brings something to the table. And I think that's largely true for most natives, be they from Uptown, Downtown, Mid-City, Lakeview, Kenner, Gretna, Algiers, or Chalmette. I date an "outsider" and call many of them friends. If there's anything this city could use, it is young professionals with a fresh perspective. Fresh perspectives that come from informed & N.O. culture savvy outsiders, delivered in a respectful way, are warmly welcomed. I also apologize if, in a defensive mode, I ever condescend to a "carpetbagger" who may not be as smug as I percieve them to be. And, I admit, some "outsiders" gel with the native culture so quickly you barely know they're not a hometown Yat. Some of my favorite people are transplants.

  •   dsbnola     +1   Posted 1682 days ago 

    Hey, rhetticus, thanks for the comment. I think you make great points. Having grown up in the far north suburbs of Chicago, I know what you mean about being an outsider resident. Yeah, it's annoying.

    Now I'm certain I've been guilty of snubbing my nose at Jefferson Parish (well, at basically every parish except Orleans). In part I've picked that up from my Nola native wife (there's also that whole East Bank vs. West Bank thing), but also when I leave Orleans Parish mostly what I see is pretty much Anywhere, USA. I also carry an unhealthy suspicion re: racial issues. I'm trying to be less kneejerk about those things.

    In the Riverbend you're stuck with the college kids. They can be uniquely annoying, for sure.

    Anyway, nice hearing from you, I really appreciate the thoughtful response.

  •   humidhaney     +1   Posted 1682 days ago 

    Great post.

    A few years ago in 2002 while I was involved with an organization (a few friends) called New Breed New Orleans. We would plan and host free public forums and speaker series. We noticed that many of the folks coming to the public forums we were organizing and volunteering were not Native New Orleanians. The natives seemed to be jaded and filled with apathy while those who had converted to the area from elsewhere were thrilled and open to improving the community.

    As Mimi from Mimi in the Marginy likes to say, "If you dye your hair red you might be even more of a redhead than a red head."

    When talking to folks from elsewhere we came across a few interesting common questions.

    "What does it take to become a New Orleanian?"
    "How hard is it to join the local community?"
    "What experiences are necessary to understand the local culture?"

    We hosted a survey online called The Nola Convert Survey. I am going to dig up the survey and the answers we collected and repost them to this site. Maybe some of the new Converts might want to fill it out.

  •   StayHealthyLa     +1   Posted 1681 days ago 

    As a native of Gre(a)tna, I have on numerous occasions gotten caught up in conversations like these. It's funny, when someone (in New Orleans) asks me where I'm from, I often say "I'm from here" and other times I say proudly, Gretna. When I'm away from New Orleans, of course I say I'm from New Orleans because Gretna doesn't quite have the same allure and charm :). Like Rhetticus, I also went to high school in Gentilly where students attended from the across the metro area...so, I supposed the experience of having gone to high school in New Orleans (as opposed to, say, Metairie or Gretna) makes one more at ease with their suburban status because early on you make friends with people who live in Orleans Parish, Metairie, the West Bank and elsewhere (something that probably doesn't happen as much when you attend school in the burbs)...regardless, eventually, one comes to understand that, whether or not you live in the city, we all share similar cultural traditions and the general New Orleanian/Louisianian world view. As far as "outsiders" are concerned, geez, wouldn't in be terrible if they didn't fall in love and move to NOLA? Many of them bring a breath of fresh air, new ideas and new traditions, and when they jive well with local culture, they quickly become absorbed and a part of the ever developing "New Orleans experience." As far as I know, New Orleans has always attracted and nurtured outsiders. Why? Because once they move here/recognize what is different about New Orleans and start to contribute/add to/enhance local culture/traditions (with or without money), they quickly (magically) find themselves transformed into a New Orleanian...even if they don't know a single person "from" New Orleans...perhaps that's what it means to be a New Orleanian...instead of judging her, you participate/contribute/enjoy/seek to enhance what she has to offer in both practice and spirit...and when you move away, it's that spirit that lives on and longs to one day be reconnected.

  •   NolaNinja     0   Posted 1681 days ago 

    another interesting and related post....
    http://nola.humidbeings.com/posts/detail/74928/New-Orleans-and-the-OtherSide