For the Good of the Gulf: UNC Law Winter/Spring Break Pro Bono Project

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bittersweet

When I moved away from St. Bernard, a small town 15 miles southeast of New Orleans, people would often ask where I was from, and my answer was always "New Orleans." For me New Orleans connoted a truly unique culture that didn't disappear when you crossed the city limits. The fact that I lived on the other side of the sign that read, "Welcome to St. Bernard" made me no less a New Orleanian than those that resided on Esplanade or St. Charles. I camped out at 5am to secure a "good spot" for the parades during Mardi Gras, I grew up listening to Fats Domino and Irma Thomas, and my family's favorite take out place was "Levi's," a small po-boy shop in St. Bernard . My point is that I know the culture, the uniqueness, and the grandeur of "The Crescent City", and unlike many of the rest of my classmates on this trip, when I come to this city, I'm coming home.

I've been back three times since the hurricane, and while I could write all day about my experiences, I would like to make two points. First, that while the physical devastation appears to lessen every day, it takes more than money to repair the devastation that resides in the souls of New Orleanians. Second, Even though surrounding parishes do not bear the name "New Orleans," the devastation in these parishes is unbelievable and should not be forgotten.

Our first night here, we walked out of our hotel, crossed Canal St., and ate at one of my favorite downtown restaurants-- Acme Oyster House. The bars on Bourbon were open, the street musicians were entertaining, and the tourists were partying. It was a typical night in "the quarter." The next day we drove down St. Charles Avenue gawked at the enormous houses and pointed at the Mardi Gras beads on the power lines. Sure there were areas of the city that were still in need of major repair (see other blog postings) but to me it appeared that Mid-City was well on its way to recovery. Then I spoke to the people. Our welcome speech at the Office of the Public Defender gave us insight into how the storm affected the justice system in New Orleans, and while I am not allowed to go into great detail, I stress that Katrina touched every aspect of the legal system. Even the small things such as having the ability to makes photocopies were taken away. When I had the opportunity to speak to the prison guards, the prisoners, the lawyers, and any other person I came into contact with, there wasn't a word that came out of their mouths that wasn't laced with the despair brought by Katrina. I sense that they are reluctant to mention Katrina because they feel people are tired of hearing about it, mostly they talk about how much they miss family members that have been relocated. Many of the prisoners don’t even know where their families are. The TRULY amazing thing about the people in this city is that despite their grief, their loss, and the unforgettable images that surely haunt them daily, they are full of hope.

On our third night here, we went to what the locals refer to as "da parish," what the map labels as "St. Bernard Parish", and what I call home. Even though I have been there since the storm, I know I'll never get used to what I see when I arrive. My house is in lower St. Bernard Parish, so on my way home I drive past my high school, the baseball parks where I spent the good part of my childhood summers, the Burger King where my sister and I ate breakfast every morning in high school, the doughnut shop where my grandmother and I ate beignets after church on Sunday, and the many neighborhoods where my friends and family lived. These places are gone, the school gates are bent, the windows are broken, and many of the houses are rotting. We didn't get to my house on Wednesday, but when I leave this downtown hotel on Friday, I know what I'll be going home to, and while I always look forward to seeing my family, I don’t look forward to living the life of a post-Katrina resident of St. Bernard Parish, not even for two weeks!

1 Comments:

  • Mindy,

    great posts - I was very moved. Please call me or e-mail me if you want some guidance about confidentiality, media protocols, etc.

    Pam M.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:16 PM  

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