I have lived in the same little one story house about ten blocks from the Capitol for my entire life. I had always thought of my house as just that – a house – until I travelled to New Orleans, Louisiana during spring break my sophomore year.
New Orleans was full of energy and history. I was completely enveloped in the vivacious spirit of the French Quarter and the bright colors of Treme. I felt like I had been transported out of reality and into a wonderful imaginary realm full of jazz music and beignets. This world quickly faded away as soon as I found myself in the 9th ward – one of the poorest neighborhoods in the United States and a parish hit devastatingly hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Eleven years later, a place once alive and full of families was a wasteland of wild grasses and rubble.
Throughout my week there, I talked to homeowners and native New Orleanians who had been relocated after the storm and had been working for over ten years to get their houses back. People across the country asked why not stay where they were relocated? Why not stay in Texas or in Georgia or any other states survivors had fled to and continue their lives there? The answer from New Orleanians was simple – our houses are our homes. They have been built by grandfathers, passed on to sons, and welcomed warmth, tradition, and the spirit of New Orleans. They are a part of family history. They are the very structure of who we are and where we come from.
I saw pictures of families huddled on their roofs in the midst of the storm, unwilling to let go of their most meaningful possession in the world. When driving around the lower 9th, you can see a large X spray painted on many doorways, memorializing the death of someone who had tried to fight the flooding in order to hold on tight to their home.
That week, I helped rebuild the homes and history of those who had lost everything during Hurricane Katrina. It was hard work – sanding, mudding, and putting up drywall for many hours every day. But it gave me a warm feeling inside because I now knew the importance of family and home that means so much to those in New Orleans.My definition of home was rebuilt as I worked to rebuild homes and lives. As I am writing this, I look around the walls of my bedroom and I think to myself about the importance of family and resiliency, just like many in the lower 9th focus their entire lives on. Home means family, courage, warmth, and tradition. It means history and happiness. It took me traveling 2,615 miles to find out the importance of my own home right here in Olympia.