Letters

What made New Orleans so special? Who is to blame for its destruction? Should it be rebuilt? Readers weigh in on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.



Salon Staff
September 8, 2005 1:49AM (UTC)

[Read Salon's full coverage of Hurricane Katrina.]

I lost my New Orleans in pieces. My parents divorced when I was young, and my mother moved away. Every summer and every Christmas I would return home, only to mourn what had passed while I was gone: Fisherman's Wharf restaurant, my grandmother's favorite cafeteria, the Woolworth's counter on Oak Street where I had my first cherry coke, and the cruelest blow of all, the K&B drugstores. With huge purple signs and their own generic brand of hard liquor, K&B was the New Orleans store of choice. Now they are all Rite-Aids or Walgreens.

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My family, though, has now lost everything all at once. My father, an administrator at Tulane, said as he waited in Houston, "I don't have my saddleshoes. No seersucker suits. My bow-ties ... All gone. But I can mourn my things. Those left behind, they had nothing. No things." My stepmother just cries. My aunts and uncles seem to accept that their children will now never return as they scramble for jobs and schools in their new homes of displacement. My family, all uptowners, all New Orleanians, whose identities are so connected to a place ... are they to be told, "Too bad"?

What I want to know now is: Will Bush make sure we get our due? He was very gung-ho when New York got attacked, but maybe it's more fun when it's planes and bombs and mostly white people who die.

-- Aimee Mignon Postell

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I lived in New Orleans for a quarter of my life. I left reluctantly, a year ago, and I'd always planned to return. Now, more than ever, I plan to come back home to New Orleans.

I've tried in vain to explain to friends and family who never loved her as much as I did the hurt of watching my beloved friend slowly drown. My family settled in Louisiana 300 years ago and I cannot imagine not being able to show my children and their children the wonders of the Audubon Zoo and Park, Jazzfest, the Marigny , Treme and Esplanade. New Orleans was and is so much more than Bourbon Street, and I cry every night as I wonder what has happened to friends, neighbors, old lovers, and a way of life that deserves to live on.

New Orleans must be rebuilt and improved in all the ways we should have improved it before the storm. In the meantime, I will make all my plans to move back to the place that gave me life.

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-- A.J. McIntosh

Though I moved from New Orleans a year and a half ago, have a job and family in other parts of the country, I still, automatically, tell people that that's where I'm from. I've found that many people from there do this. I've found that in that sense, being a New Orleanian is a lot like being educated by Jesuits: You live there for any part of your formative years, and you are a New Orleanian for life, no matter how hard the city screws you over, no matter how much it breaks your heart.

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In the aftermath of Katrina, I've read a lot of fluff pieces floating amid the horror stories, but the only one that's really offended me is David Amsden's "Text Messages From Purgatory." It seems to be an irresponsible love song from a boy who never really understood what he was in love with. Yes, New Orleans is a decadent, languorous city, full of swaying oaks and jazz music drifting in through open windows. It is full of "the very poor and the very hardcore, all of whom spend the days chasing shade, and nights wandering around sweaty, glassy-eyed, psychologically unhinged."

But it's also full of people who avoid the bingeing tourists in the Quarter as much as possible, poor people, yes, and working-class and middle-class people too, almost all of whom pay rent and go to work and shop for groceries and don't have summer homes to go to and do have benders and dramas but who on the whole don't have too much time to spend living a life modeled on a dreamy, ethereal Nancy Lehmann novel.

The city that I have been watching obsessively for the past week -- mourning, furious -- trying to catch glimpses of people and places I love, is more than just the Quarter, more than just the Marigny, and more than just some random New Yorker's patronizing fantasy. I think Salon should keep publishing those love songs (Christopher Rice's was a sweet one, for example). New Orleans can use all the love it can get right now, and America should not be allowed to forget what's going on down there, what a singularity we're all losing as the days go by. But please try not to insult our intelligence too egregiously in the process.

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-- Cammy Morgan

I have just returned from Mississippi, covering the destruction by Katrina for a Los Angeles news organization. I commend Stephen Elliott on his first-person coverage. We need more reporters finding the exceptions to the headlines.

But, at the same time, can we please pry ourselves from New Orleans long enough to give Biloxi, Gulfport and the 26-mile stretch of ravaged coastline in Mississippi a little more attention? More than twice as many people have died in that region than in New Orleans.

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Many more homes and businesses have been obliterated, and just as many people have been suffering. At this point it seems Biloxi's greatest problem is not a lack of electricity, water and food, but unfortunately not having an NFL team, a French Quarter and a loud mayor.

-- Jeff Michael

We all loved New Orleans, but it's below sea level, and the seas are rising. The glaciers are melting, the icecaps are melting, and the hurricanes are predicted to increase as well -- there have been 13 so far this year, where four would be expected. Global warming will continue if we stop burning gas tomorrow. The whole Gulf Coast (and yes, most of Florida) is doomed.

It's foolish build on sand in a flood plain. Wake up and smell the coffee. Rebuild on higher ground.

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-- Dave Hart

I never thought I'd be defending Dennis Hastert to my liberal peers, but what is so outrageous about what this man has said? He's no doubt come to the conclusion, given the evidence of this tragedy, what everyone has known for years: the devastation of New Orleans was never a question of if but a matter of when. Now that the area is even more exposed to the next catastrophic storm, why would anyone actually propose rebuilding the city as it was? Better levees? Come on.

The reactionary posture some, including Salon, have taken reminds me of the neoconservative hatchet job on liberals and principled conservatives who dared to suggest only a few short years ago that perhaps invading Iraq wasn't the most logical and prudent response to 9/11.

Is it too much to ask for a little consistency?

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-- J.M. Walker

It's a relief to see the water finally starting to be pumped out of New Orleans. But I wonder if it's occurred to anyone what is going to become of the area it's being pumped back into? Lake Pontchartrain and its surrounding area will now be home to all the filth that was picked up from the city. This could be setting the stage for yet another environmental mess that will require even more money and manpower to clean up. I may be guilty of "arranging the furniture while the house is burning down" but it bears consideration.

-- Brian Mac Ian

I hope that middle-class and upper-class America, both black and white, feel shame and rage at the sight of helpless men, women and children being left to languish in the sewage of indifference, classism and racism. Right now, I'm angry at the persistence of racial/economic disparities in the Gulf region, and I'm angry at those who would blame the poor for being illiterate, underpaid and malnourished.

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I am a highly educated woman with a nice job, car and apartment, but quiet as it's kept, I know that most Americans are like me -- unprepared for catastrophic situations, manmade or natural. I live from paycheck to paycheck in a very expensive city, and I know that if a hurricane like Katrina hit us, I would have been most likely stranded. Being black and female, I'm sure I would have been lumped in with the rest of the proletariat as ill-educated and somehow "responsible" for my fate.

Right now, I don't feel secure about being counted as an American, because it seems to me that if you don't have the proper cash, transportation or connections, you are invisible. When you are black and poor, you are not seen as fully human; if you are black and middle-class, you learn quickly that your status as a citizen and human being in the United States depends on your ability to buy your way out of oppression.

-- Cherie Ann Turpin

Thank you for putting into words what I have been feeling all week. I moved to New York 30 years ago, from France, married a New Yorker, had two children, became a U.S. citizen, and have loved this country ever since. But today, I am not proud to be a U.S. citizen anymore. The race and poverty issues in this country have always shocked me, and, as I have voiced numerous times, things have been getting worse, not better.

The inability of most Americans to talk and deal with the race issue has always troubled me. We are all responsible here -- will this catastrophe help us to start dealing with a reality that most of us have not wanted to deal with? I am French and white, my wife is Jamaican and black, my two sons are all of the above. For all of us, for the future of our nation, I hope this will wake us out of our contagious torpor.

-- Nicolas Chareton

The response (or lack of it) to the plight of the poor stranded in New Orleans is truly incomprehensible across the Atlantic in the U.K. Even those of us totally against Bush and all he stands for never expected him to show such lack of leadership and compassion.

-- Christos Proukakis

It is painfully obvious that the Bush administration has left this nation woefully unprepared for a major disaster. Clearly, local and state governments have been drastically shortchanged by the federal government, largely as a result of the unnecessary invasion of Iraq.

This hurricane season ends Nov. 30. If we are struck again several weeks hence, we are obviously incapable of adequately responding.

The very fiber of our collective national conscience is at stake. We must demand full accountability from the highest levels of government, undo reckless tax cuts, and restore our shattered national safety net. Homeland security begins at home!

-- Rebecca Rabinowitz

If I'm Osama 1 or Osama 2 or 3, or whoever's in line to replace bin Laden, I'm training my crosshairs somewhere else tonight. Because I've just been watching CNN and Hurricane Katrina, and now I know that the United States of America is a second-rate power that can't protect its own. The United States has an underclass we hide when company comes a-calling. We've got races that we tolerate only so long as they keep their place earning minimum wage at menial jobs that service rich people and gamblers.

The United States chases phantom enemies across the globe, dispensing democracy by gunship rather than ballot box, all because that's easy and sufficiently diverting from trying and failing to create the sort of opportunity and education and success and happiness that would have led to real security for us here at home.

So, congratulations, President Bush. You sold out our environment, you sold out our people, and it all proved to be part of a wizardly master plan that would have made Machiavelli proud. You ruined us so the terrorists would leave us alone. Why go to all the trouble to smuggle in a dirty bomb when a hurricane or an earthquake or a heat wave will do the trick just as well? Why disrupt communications systems when we can't even hear the wails of neighbors dying a hundred yards away? Why scare people when they are already so poor and so upset and so paranoid they are willing to turn guns on each other and our government at the first sign of trouble?

-- Brian Alan Lane

Will the Bush administration apologists ever get it? This government's policies and ideologies, focused as they are on benefiting corporate cronies and our richest citizens, while mired in a deceitful war of choice, have had profound and devastating repercussions for the rest of the nation -- and lethal for the citizens of New Orleans.

Basic civil obligations that are the obvious, time-honored responsibility of government have been premeditatedly and criminally dismantled or ignored. Our people's belief and confidence in the inherent nobility of what American government stands for has been hijacked and trashed by this collection of self-centered imbeciles.

The Bush administration's stunning lack of vision and idealism is exceeded only by its utter incompetence and unchecked greed. "I got mine" is their only true guiding principle. It is absolutely no surprise they have monumentally bungled the prevention and recovery effort in New Orleans, as it is in keeping with every other venture they've botched and responsibility they've mismanaged since coming to power.

Government policies and services impact our lives in countless ways. They are not arcane notions to be dismissed as pie-in-the-sky liberal tripe. Policies have consequences. Direct consequences. The Bush administration's policies have had the direct consequence of thousands of needless deaths -- first in Iraq, now in America. We simply cannot survive any more of their futile leadership, their disgraceful aims, their dishonorable actions, their twisted values, and their crippling results. The whole scandalous lot must go.

-- Michael Moritz

Bravo. I have been a Salon subscriber for several years and "Flushing Out the Ugly Truth" by Joan Walsh is one of the best pieces you have ever published. Some in Washington have paid lip service to "it's not about politics," but, in the end, it was just that. Walsh has built a wonderful case and closed with a powerful recommendation -- put your hands and hearts where your mouth is. Will it happen? I hope so, but I doubt it.

I am increasingly convinced the only thing that can foster change is a wholesale change in our representation in Washington. The current administration and Congress, both sides of the aisle, have proven time and time again that they have only their best interests at heart. Prescription drugs, bankruptcy, estate tax, tax cuts, gas prices, the list goes on and on. They cater to the deep pockets -- really deep pockets -- and leave the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

-- Jim Chiavelli

I'm very impressed with Joan Walsh's article. I'm not white or black, but I agree that we have ignored our poor fellow citizens. I'm a staunch supporter of President Bush, even though I don't agree with everything he does, but this situation and the poor response to it has really angered me and hurt me deeply. The picture of 84-year-old Milvertha Hendricks is so powerful and says more than can be said with words! May God be with her and protect her.

-- Asif Gill


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