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”.