Studying New Orleans has made me think about an old friend of mine. Charles McMaster is from New Orleans and during Katrina, spent a couple days on his roof before being airlifted to safety. Shortly after, he moved into his aunt and uncle’s house a block away from my house in Tacoma, WA and went to my middle school until he moved back to New Orleans about a year later. I was not very involved in current events as a middle schooler and didn’t think of Katrina as anything much more than a horrible natural disaster. The weight of Charles’ situation did not really resonate with me at the time, but he has inspired me to explore the Katrina Diaspora.
The chart below gives a visual of the Diaspora. While most people moved locally, a significant amount landed as far as the West Coast, like Charles.
A former resident of the French Quarter in New Orleans, Ellis Anderson wrote “One town’s post-Katrina diaspora” from her town Bay St. Louis five years after the storm.
While she did not experience the storm from New Orleans, her writing reveals the difficulties in having a community torn apart, the struggle to keep it alive (whether by communicating via telephone or email to their old friends or by bringing their own Mardi Gras traditions to a new city) and come to terms with separation.
The following article offers information about the experiences of diaspora from New Orleans:
Like Denise in New Orleans After the Deluge, who fears going back to New Orleans but at the same time feels a sense of cowardice and shame for neglecting her community (see pg. 177), both articles document residents’ complex feelings for their city. While some simply don’t have the resources to return, others like Cheryl Banks-Jones don’t want to go back as they feel that the city has failed them. Meanwhile, people like Ellis are begging their friends to resettle or return themselves because they “do not feel fully alive any other place”. The personal accounts highlight how much a city can become an integral part of ones’ identity, and the manner in which big parts of New Orleanians were swept away in the hurricane as Denise describes. While Hurricane Katrina may have left many of the hard aspects of New Orleans in shambles, the soft aspects of music, food, and common experiences, are what Ellis says people miss most and what have kept the city alive. Whether residents resettled elsewhere or chose to rebuild in New Orleans, Katrina has brought to surface the deep and complex relationship that a city and resident can share.