Thursday, April 01, 2010

Going Native

Two interesting reads about inhabitants of a place.

The first one is Dirty South Bureau's examination of class warfare and Bywater gentrification.

The gutterpunks and the dropout subculture are not harmless. They are the shock troops of gentrification. First it is underground clown shows and a few jug bands. Then it is zines and white people graffiti. Zines and white people graffiti lead to anarchist bookstores, which lead to coffee shops. Coffee shops lead to coffee shops that play NPR. Jug bands lead to hip music venues. Bicycle collectives lead to yoga studios. And when the yoga studios and stores for people’s dogs arrive, my friends, it is ALL OVER. You’d better be looking for new rental digs.


The second is this comment thread on New Orleanian nativism on Humid City. By comment 14, Lord David describes the situation thusly:

Having been here only a decade & a half, and actually having paid attention to my ‘quirkyness’ (I pay attention to words & music I write, and the art I make, too. I suck at blindfolded channeling.), I guess I should pack up my old kit bag and get the heel down the road.

One bright day, there will finally only be people here who were born here, and then, only the ones who never TRY to be clever, only the ones who are naturally clever all the time, like you. How’s that clever thing working out, by the way? I obviously wouldn’t know.


I don't know how much I can say about conversations like this. I mean, my most recognized internet handle is "Cousin Pat from Georgia," which was a moniker I adopted because "where are you from?" was literally the second question I was asked me once I met someone in this town.

Based on my answer to question three: "Why did you move here from an Island?" I estimate that 75% of native New Orleanians and Louisianans have some family member (usually a cousin) who lives in Georgia. My geneology bridges any native/non-local divide almost pre-emptively.

It helps not to really judge places as "better" or "worse" than other places. I can't speak to folks who have come to NOLA from suburban life somewhere, because I don't have that problem. I was born in Birmingham, raised on St. Simons Island, went to college in Athens and now live in New Orleans. I've effectively been on vacation since 1983, how can I complain?

And to be fair, I have rarely encountered hostility or distrust because I am not from here. Any heckling which I do encounter is usually good natured, and centered around certain professional or college football games. If anything, the only times I have seen true hostility or distrust is when someone who is not from here shows up and starts being obnoxious about saving the place by making it more like somewhere else.

But self-righteousness is a kind of behavior that others probably find annoying no matter where you are.

Also, the native/non-local thing isn't a solely New Orleanian trait. As I said, I grew up on an island near a small town in Georgia. There was always a tourist-vs-local vibe. A few folks from out of town were seen with distrust (I know two folks who moved to the Island and the locals all thought they were narcs), but that appears to fade in time.

In Athens, length of time in town increased your social "rank" in some circles, where folks could complain about days past when things were "better." But that's the nature of a town that reinvents itself every three years. Hell, I still miss the Del Rays and Burntstone Brewhouse and Blue Sky and Jittery Joe's downtown. That doesn't mean I won't go out and see this group's college band after dinner at Transmetropolitan, drinks at Trapeze and getting my gameday coffee at Walker's.

So I can empathize with nostalgia and sentimentality for the way things were. People were younger and enjoyed something special that might no longer exist the way it used to. That's just the nature of time. But there were folks back then that thought we were the interlopers, that we were destroying their neighborhoods. And the folks who are new in town now will complain about the "way things used to be" sometime in 2020.

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2 comments:

Kevin Allman said...

I have rarely encountered hostility or distrust because I am not from here. Any heckling which I do encounter is usually good natured, and centered around certain professional or college football games. If anything, the only times I have seen true hostility or distrust is when someone who is not from here shows up and starts being obnoxious about saving the place by making it more like somewhere else.

That's been my experience, too. New Orleans is actually pretty welcoming (or just polite) to newcomers, as long as they're not here to make the place over in the way they want it...or to make it more like the rest of the United States.

Of course, there are some things you will never experience unless you're a native, but, hell, 99.99% of the natives don't experience them either.

Leigh C. said...

The ones who do do the best here go native, it's true. Folks who've been here for longer won't be rude to you...but they will tell you outright that you'll hurt something in your body if you try to change too much too fast. "Don't go ripping a tricep about it. It's just New Orleans." Really.