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Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans

A bittersweet goodbye

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No one says it better than Satchmo

Posted by Fabian1993 20:52 Archived in USA Tagged goodbye neworleans louisarmstrong

The Day the Levees Broke

Katrina and the 9th Ward

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St. James Infirmary

In documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts by Spike Lee, the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis sings St James Infirmary. It's one of the saddest blues songs in the book.

I've been avoiding writing this post for a while. There's too much confusion. Too much anger. Too much sorrow brewing inside of me to even begin to express what Katrina was to this city. And I didn't even feel it. I didn't lock myself in the house when the winds started blowing, I didn't feel the water rise, I didn't get displaced from my home, and I didn't loose anyone loved ones when the leves broke. That booming crack - that resounding boom that so many residents of the Upper and Lower 9th Wards heard that night. I can't imaging what that's like, and I won't be able to properly convey the experience here, but I can't leave New Orleans without talking about Katrina. Here in this city here was before Katrina, and there was after.

The surge from Katrina physically flooded the city of New Orleans. But it was the federal government that destroyed New Orleans. It was the federal government that destroyed the faith of our people in this country. That destroyed the international community's perceptions of America. And swept away so much. It exposed the deep racial fault lines of the city and our country. It brought out the best and the worst in people. Yet somehow, almost 8 years later New Orleans has staged a comeback and is more vibrant than ever. Yet the scars are still there.

As our professor put it, imagine placing your house in a glass tank and filling it up with a garden hose. Imagine filling up your neighborhood with a garden hose. Imagine flooding your city (your schools, your libraries, your hospitals, your offices, your home). That's how bad Katrina hurt.

Sorrow

Just a few raw facts:
- In the City of New Orleans, the storm surge caused more than 50 breaches in drainage canal levees (It was the worst Civil Engineering Disaster ever Recorded in the United States)
- By August 31, 2005, 80% of New Orleans was flooded
- By August 31, 2005, 100% of St. Bernard Parish was flooded
- Some parts of the city were under 15 feet (4.6 m) of Water
- Final Death Toll from the Louisiana Department of Health: 1,464
- Yet there are said to be many more that died of lack of services, post-traumatic stress disorder, and heartbreak.

I remember Katrina as a child with a lot of sorrow - images of black suffering. People pushing their loved ones on make-shift rafts and getting lifted off the tips of buildings in helicopter baskets. Yet, I always thought that the federal government and the people in charge were doing their best to help the people of New Orleans. You can't get angry at a natural disaster.

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Anger

But now, knowing what I know (seeing what i've seen) I can't help but get angry at the people in charge and the deep racism that was exposed when the levees broke. Just a deep anger that climbs the ladder from the New Orleans Police Department, Mayor Nagin, Governor Blanco, and Michael Brown (the head of FEMA) to Michael Chertoff (the head of Homeland Security), Vice-President Dick Cheney, and President George W. Bush. It was the type of disaster expected to be seen in a developing country, not the U.S. It reaffirmed not only our government's tendency to prioritize business over people, but also the underlying racism of our country.

Here are a few of the stories that stuck me:
- The Corps of Engineers built the levee walls 10ft. instead of the intended 17ft. as a way of saving cost.
- The federal and local government were warned about a potential breech well before the hurricane hit.
- Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco contacted business leaders before ordering an evacuation, because they did not want to "cry wolf" and interrupt business. This delayed the emergency evacuation order until less than a day before landfall.
- The formal evacuation plan was ignored, and Nagin ordered residents to a shelter of last resort without any provisions for food, water, security, or sanitary conditions
- Buses were not used to assist in evacuation. (There are media images of buses just laying around the city of New Orleans before the storm).

- Homeland Security waited some 36 hours to declare Katrina an incident of national significance, instead of declaring it when the levees broke.
- For three days FEMA failed to provide support or supplies to the people of New Orleans.
- Racial violence erupted throughout the city - we watched clips of white men returning to the city with their guns and a testimony from a black man who was shot randomly when found outside another man's home.
- Instead of dealing with violence and looting, some policemen were recorded leaving stores with DVDs and electronics.
- Dick Cheney is recorded calling the manager of the Southern Pines Electric Power Association and ordered him to divert power from hospitals to electrical substations in nearby Collins, Mississippi that were essential to the operation of the Colonial Gasoline Pipeline.
- Bush was criticized for not returning to Washington, D.C. from his vacation in Texas until two days after the disaster.
- Instead of landing in New Orleans to show solidarity when the flood first settled, Bush flew over the city of New Orleans. When Hurricane Betsy hit in 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson touched ground in the 9th Ward, raised a flashlight to his face and spoke to the American people in solidarity.
- In his 2007 State of the Union, Bush failed to recognize the hurricane recovery efforts.

These stories of recovery are devastating, at a time when we should be coming together, things fell appart.

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Visiting the Lower 9th Ward

I felt strange visiting the lower 9th ward. These are people's homes, this is their neighborhood yet there are disaster tours that go up and down the streets photographing homes and the people that live in them. That's why I only have one photo.

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We visited Habitat for Humanity and Common Ground, both committed to reconstructing the Upper and Lower 9th Wards and bringing people back to this culturally rich residential neighborhood. A lot of green houses have been put up by celebrities like Brad Pitt. A lot of effort has gone into fighting against the lack of flood insurance and legally supporting the rights of people to own their homes. A lot of effort has been made by musicians like Marsalis to revitalize the community with subsidized musicians housing and a cultural center. Yet, there is still a lot of work to be done. The streets are still pretty torn up and there are some houses that haven't been touched since the storm. It's heartbreaking. It's been almost 8 years and theres still so much work to be done.

Posted by Fabian1993 19:37 Archived in USA Tagged katrina anger neworleans 9thward sorrow st.jamesinfirmary

New Orleans by Daylight

Catching Up with the City

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I know I've been posting a lot lately- but I'm trying to catch up with everything before we head off for Chennai, India. On that note, here are a few photographs of the city I've grown to love so much.

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Posted by Fabian1993 22:49 Archived in USA Tagged neworleans

Breaux Mart

Bonding with the Brothers

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Brothers for LIfe: Reginald Warren III, Daniel Underberg, Fabian Fernandez

Posted by Fabian1993 22:43 Archived in USA Tagged breauxmart

The Backstreet Cultural Museum

Mardi Gras Indians and the Delicate Question of Cultural Appropriation

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On Friday we traveled to the Backstreet Cultural Museum - for more information here are a few excerpts from the museum itself:

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Today, the Backstreet Cultural Museum holds the world’s most comprehensive collection related to New Orleans’ African American community-based masking and processional traditions, including Mardi Gras Indians, jazz funerals, social aid and pleasure clubs, Baby Dolls, and Skull and Bone gangs. The museum’s filmed records of over 500 events constitute the most cohesive archive documenting these cultural traditions.

In addition to its permanent exhibits, the Backstreet Cultural Museum hosts public performances of music and dance, provides outreach programs, and creates an annual book, Keeping Jazz Funerals Alive, that chronicles the year’s jazz funerals.

The Backstreet Cultural Museum is a pillar in the Tremé community where second-line parades begin and end, the North Side Skull and Bone Gang and Mardi Gras Indians congregate on Mardi Gras day, and schoolchildren identify family members in the photographs on the wall. The museum is active in Tremé and promotes art and culture as important to the neighborhood’s identity and future.

It began Sylvester Francis taking photographs and filming the parades, the second line marches, the social aid and pleasure clubs that made up so much of the cultural life in the Treme district of New Orleans. It grew from a collection of costumes in a garage to the largest record of the Mardi Gras Indians and their traditions. We were led through the museum by Sylvester Francis' wife and show all these elaborate feathered and beaded costumes which were worn only once and then stored away. Bright reds, blues, greens, and yellows. Fantastic headdresses and elaborate staffs. These traditions that have been going on for more than a century stem from African-American groups and their solidarity with Native American resistance. It commemorates their shared oppression and struggles and its a rich part of New Orleans history. While the styles and tribal organizations are appropriated from Native American culture, they have been practiced for so long and transformed into a unique set of practices belonging wholly to the black Mardi Gras Indians. A few years ago the National Congress of American Indians signed an agreement with the Mardi Gras Indian Tribes recognizing their shared struggles and sanctioning the continuation of this vibrant tradition.

For more information here's a brilliant Economist Article on the History of the Mardi Gras Indians

What bothers me are all of the white people trying to be 'Mardi Gras Indians.' While true Mardi Gras Indians belong to neighborhood tribes, support each other financially, spend thousands of dollars on supplies, and spend hundreds of hours sowing these elaborate costumes - many of the parades I saw on the second weekend of Mardi Gras featured drunk white people on floats with painted faces, cheap costumes, and lead beads. You CANNOT 'dress-up' like other cultures and pretend you understand the deeper cultural meanings or pretend you sympathize with the oppression that they have experienced. Unlike the Mardi Gras Indians, that's straight up cultural appropriation and totally unacceptable.

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Posted by Fabian1993 21:55 Archived in USA Tagged mardigrasindians culturalappropriation

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