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Conservatively liberal, moderately well-educated, and highly opinionated...

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Moving beyond "evacuee"

There’s an interesting “Letter to the Editor” in the Houston Chronicle, in which a reader wonders,

Why do we use the phrase "Katrina evacuee"? The people from New Orleans who moved here because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina are remaining here, have gotten jobs here and are adjusting to their new lives as Houstonians.

Leaving aside the usual definitions of “moved here”, this person’s letter brings the New Orleans question front and center. Who is going home? Or rather... who wants to go home?

People who are living in transition – in limbo – are not settled, and if they’re waiting to go home, they haven’t adjusted, either. This is the other side of the BNOB equation. The impact of that controversial proposal goes wayyyyyy beyond New Orleans. The author of the Chronicle letter said,

I think these people deserve to start rebuilding their lives.

Calling them evacuees continues to verbally set them apart as different from us. Let's let that go so they can start to feel they are building a new, stable life here and that they belong.

They do deserve to start rebuilding their lives, and I can tell you from personal experience that starting from scratch takes time. A lot of it. But it starts by mentally letting go of the past – by turning one’s mind forward to the future. One can't do that by living in limbo.

The real question is not “who is staying in Houston?” (or Dallas… or Atlanta…), but “who wants to go back to New Orleans?” - and that's exactly why the Urban Planning proposal from the BNOB commission suggested a four-month planning phase for the badly flooded New Orleans neighborhoods.

Somebody should ask the people who came here. All of them. Because the letter-writer is right – everybody deserves to move beyond “evacuee”.


  • At 8:04 AM, Blogger Mark said;

    There are people who will stay in their new homes, in a life that will prove better for them and their children in the short run. And there are people who will return home.

    I think evacuee is like all of the other words some people have rejected, such as victim. The word of choice should be survivor.

    They need to remain a people apart in some sense. Just being from New Orleans is one part of it, a feeling I know well.

    Being among those who lost everything is an even larger part of it. They should not give this up until they are made whole, until they are paid by their insurance companies and compensated by their government for the failure of the deficient federal levees, until the city is made secure enough that they have the option to return or not as they choose.

    They should "get over it" on about the same timeline we expect New Yorkers to get over 9-11.

  • At 11:08 AM, Blogger Tim said;

    I think it all depends on where you're registered to vote. Once you change that, it's official.

    I had to get a new driver's license, and when I changed my address from Vista Park to Riverbend they gave me a voter's registration card to fill out. I refused since where I stay now is just an apartment. Where my house is where I still consider home.

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