ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Evacuees send e-mails to each other with Christmas poetry wistful for beignets, king cakes
and burgers at Port of Call. People who lived for their front porches and pecan trees
are getting used to seeing a clear, cold night sky.
Christmas in New Orleans
By Fatima Shaik
Picture Santa’s sled with a rolling kitchenette attached and you have some idea about the size of a FEMA trailer. I came across a yard of them when I got lost on the highway near Baton Rouge, where most of my family evacuated out of New Orleans.
The trailers are not the double-wides I imaginedbut some are festooned with lights and an artificial Christmas tree outside the door as in a Bobbie Ann Mason short story. A FEMA trailer is more like a camper that you’d attach with a hitch to your four-wheeler when you want to get out of the city for the weekend. Tiny, but nonetheless a gift.
As the rest of the country, children and adults alike, envision Christmas with piles of presents from their favorite electronic and clothing stores, the people of the Katrina diaspora are waking up daily with thoughts of clean underwear, one comfortable chair and not being home for the holidays. But they are trying to make it.
In the town of Baker, the trailers sit row after incalculable row on a dusty field isolated from the sleepy community. Baker is a town where Main Street sits along the railroad tracks and leads from the interstate past the chemical plant and the playground to the church and two roads named Magnolia. An estimated 1,700 people live on the Baker plain. It is a good mile from any shopping or familiar community life. The FEMA park is named Renaissance Village, for the RVs as much as the hopes of their occupants.
Other evacuees stay in temporary apartments and pile into houses around Baton Rouge. One of my cousins hosted 70 people in her home in the days after the hurricane.
Now, life means close quarters, small irritations and long hugs with too many memories of home. Evacuees send e-mails to each other with Christmas poetry wistful for beignets, king cakes and burgers at Port of Call. People who lived for their front porches and pecan trees are getting used to seeing a clear, cold night sky.
Like children making their wish lists to Santa, the evacuees are hoping hard and wondering if they will ever regain shelter, sanity and a decent future.
The Christmas commerce that exists in the welcoming malls of the North is a harsh contrast to the stores and hotels of New Orleans, that were boarded up for protection and to keep out Katrina’s homeless. People joke about spending food stamps on Christmas candy or presents or seafood for gumbo, and the reasons not to hoard instant noodles and canned goods. The suddenly indigent now recognize the delicate balance between entitlement and nutrition.
The jokes these days are edgy. Once voting for governor was a choice between the Klansman and the Crook. (Vote for the Crook, my folks advised everyone.) Now, the joke is “Where’s Waldo?,” with bank officers and city and government officials hard to find.
Best friends and neighbors whose family connections extend for generations now meet fleetingly before traveling to jobs in one city or another. Relatives lose precious phone numbers and castigate themselves for doing everything wrong. Those who escaped Katrina have not escaped worry and longing.
Going home for the holidays are mostly the elderly and infirm. Their homecomings take place in downtown New Orleans at one of the three St. Louis cemeteries, which hold some of the city’s most permanent residents.
Still, the survivors talk openly to strangers in crowded meeting halls. People with dedication and sympathetic hearts are working and planning. As in New Orleans’ early days, crooks and futurists are finding commonalities in notions of a new frontier. Individuals are washing their houses by cup and spoon. They are teaching their children that kindness is sharing a bottle of water and self-sufficiency is keeping some.
When the nation emerges from its pile of gifts on Christmas morning and picks up the newspaper or moves to the television, will Americans still attend to the people of New Orleans? Or will Katrina’s poor folk move back toward the invisibility where they existed for so many years? The people of south Louisiana may accept their lot or maybe disappointments will fester. Let us hope that they bear no bitterness if America moves on.
In poor Louisiana, the community of Katrina survivors is looking for miracles. At this time of the year, they are finding a parallel to their tragedy and hardship from long ago: There was no room at the inn for the first Christmas and few places to rest their heads now for the people of New Orleans.
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[i do not usually comment, but this time is different. i used to live in the 1700 block of tennessee street in the lower ninth ward of new orleans. the 1600 block is next to the main thoroughfare running through lower nine. it is four months later. people returning to survey their homes are finding bodies of family and friends. the authorities said they had searched every house. recovered all the bodies. yet, week after week, especially in lower nine, bodies are found. what’s going on? — kalamu]
* * * * Son finds body in rubble He had watched mother die on roof By Walt Philbin Staff writer A Lower 9th Ward man who saw his mother die on the roof of their home as Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters rose in their neighborhood, returned Thursday and found their house collapsed and her skeletal remains in the rubble, police said. The body was tentatively identified by police as Joyce Green, after her son found her remains in the debris outside their home about 3:30 p.m. in the 1600 block of Tennessee Street, said officer Juan Barnes, a police spokesman. Her son, whose name wasn’t released by police, told police he and another relative had taken refuge on the roof of the home with his mother after the Industrial Canal levee broke, police said. He told police his mother died before he and the other relative were rescued and evacuated from New Orleans. After returning to New Orleans, the son told police that he went to the home Thursday and found his mother’s remains. The grieving son said he recognized her body from the clothes she was wearing at the time she died. An autopsy will be done at the coroner’s office at St. Gabriel to obtain a positive identification, Barnes said.
Source: Times-Picayune (Friday, December 30, 2005)
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Seeing Things from Inside the Circle
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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarcerationbut her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.Publishers Weekly
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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 24 December 2008