The Cultural Divide of a River

August 17, 2016

NASA Earth Observatory rain totals. Brightest color represents > 1000 mm of rain. Souce: NASA

 

This is mainly addressed to my fellow Louisianans.

 

We are in unprecedented territory in Louisiana. We’ve had more than a few natural disasters in the past ten years, but the current flooding disaster is unprecedented in scope and scale.

 

Since the flooding began, national media, as one news outlet put it, “fiddled” while Louisiana drown.

 

National media has since given more coverage to the event. Interestingly, that coverage focused on specific areas where the most devastating flooding occurred, places like Port Vincent, French Settlement, Baker, Zachary, Sorrento, Galvez, Denham Springs, Walker, Watson, and so on.

 

Notice anything interesting about this list? If you’re from Louisiana, you probably know all of these places are east of the Mississippi River.

 

The media in general seems to be focusing on the Baton Rouge metro area.

 

What about west of the river?

 

Those cities are usually not part of Baton Rouge’s narrative. It is the symbol Baton Rouge that has become the dominant placeholder for the geography these devastating floods have occurred, and that excludes so much of the devastation in other parishes.

 

It has shades of Hurricane Rita written on it.

 

Don’t remember Hurricane Rita? Probably because it occurred west of the Mississippi River shortly after Hurricane Katrina.

 

The narrative of Rita was separate from Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Lake Charles might as well have been part of Texas. Lafayette and New Iberia? Their suffering rarely makes the news.

 

Cities and towns west of the Mississippi River, like Crowley and New Iberia, have flooded. Places west were devastated not too long ago in 2011 in a flooding event that didn’t garner much attention either. That area took water to spare Baton Rouge.

 

Something about the Mississippi River separates narrative, thought, and even language between the two geographies. Why is that?

 

Not to downplay any damage that has occurred within the city limits of Baton Rouge, but we were largely spared. Let’s not let Baton Rouge become a placeholder for the individuals, families, communities, and cities that have been destroyed, including those across the Mississippi River. They all have names, their own identities, and their own way of cooking gumbo.

 

Let’s not forget that.

 

I’ve heard rumblings on social media about some folks thinking Louisiana somehow deserved this flood because people here do not think climate change is real. That is the same logic Pat Robertson used to declare New Orleans deserved Hurricane Katrina.

 

Let’s not do that. It’s illogical, harmful, hurtful, and just plain stupid.

 

Our part of the world here in Louisiana is diverse, that is certain. A French colloquialism can mean different things depending on where you fall on the latitude of south Louisiana. However, our narrative is shared right now. Let’s not lose sight of that. We are resilient, we are strong, we are Louisiana, and we will survive.

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