New Orleans: no stranger to hard times, bad breaks

Ryan Houk

In the year following Hurricane Katrina, all anyone could talk about was the tragedy suffered by the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans. While I agree that it was one of the most devastating chapters in modern American history, I also believe that – in the long run – the effects of Katrina will only complement what New Orleans already is.

The home of Mardi Gras has always been defined by its character. More than any other city in the America, New Orleans is alive. Manhattan may bustle; Naw’lins breathes. And you can feel it.

All day long, every day of the year, the Big Easy offers a myriad of sights, sounds and smells to tease your senses. Whether it’s the smooth jazz to which the city gave birth or the seafood gumbo the Cajuns made famous, you can’t help but feel the life all around you. It’s as if you’ve left the United States and entered a charming gothic fairy tale. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s a lot like Anne Rice says it is. In fact, the allure is so enticing, a good portion of the population consists of vacationers who chose never to leave.

That being the case, I was surprised at the universal melancholy experienced in Katrina’s wake. It seemed everyone thought New Orleans would be lost forever. The loss of human life was tragic, that’s true. The less-than-speedy national response was tragic as well. But as far as the vitality of the city itself is concerned, I have to believe not all hope is lost.

First of all, New Orleans is no stranger to hardships. Not only did it overcome two city-wide fires – in 1788 and 1794 – it also endured major battles in two of the three wars ever fought on contiguous American soil. Add to that religious persecution, racial discrimination, floods and one nasty bout of yellow fever, and you quickly see the picture of a city which, if nothing else, knows how to survive.

Secondly, even if the city were not quite so tenacious, the will of its citizens alone would help it bounce back from Katrina. The town may breathe on its own, but it’s the residents who make it move. It’s the residents who are responsible for the fact that even New Orleans’ history has personality.

We are talking about a population founded by persecuted Christians from Nova Scotia and rounded out by liberated Haitian slaves. Talk about your tough customers. The mosquito population itself is a trial of epic endurance. So, needless to say, the town is not populated by folks who simply lie down and take what life throws at them. Katrina yields no exception.

Today, it may seem obvious to say New Orleans could still use some help. The devastation caused there will probably take decades of work to repair. But if there is one thing the past has taught us, it is that – years from now – the story of Katrina will be just another chapter in the long life of the Big Easy.

It will be one not of tragedy, but of triumph.

Ryan Houk is a junior English major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].