by Angeliska on September 4, 2015
As I was struggling to write my own recent piece commemorating the decade since Katrina hit, I found myself thinking about my friend Raven, a lady who has been in my life since we were both wee rag-tag teenage snippets, witchy little waifs haunting the sidewalks and botanical gardens of our hometown, here in Austin. We have both grown up into women since then, and been through all our up ands downs and backwards and forwards, and find ourselves now here once more: contemplating those journeys and all we have learned in walking our roads. Raven and Jayme (another dear old friend of mine) got married in City Park a few months before the storm, at the base of an enormous and ancient tree. We, her sisters and bridesmaids, are all gathered around the bride and groom. If you made the picture below black and white, it could easily be 1920.
They stayed in New Orleans through the deluge, and after, as worse (man-made) disasters struck down, and held on – as best they could, to the city, to what they had left, and to each other. They went back and visited their wedding tree, only to find that it had been destroyed in the hurricane. This is the second image: two tough survivors of a strange war – they could have come out right out of the Great Depression. The photographs of them before and after spoke to me so deeply. I have held them close, and ruminated on the power and meaning in these images for the past ten years. In the process of delving into my own feelings about impermanence, relationships, love and survival, I turned to these images again, and decided to ask Raven if she wanted to tell her own story about them, and about her experience. Her words, and those photographs are here:
Katrina, Ten Years Later – by Raven Hinojosa
Katrina came ashore a few months after my wedding. That summer so far had been a sink-hole of stupefied dread and fretful busy-making, as only New Orleans summers can be. In my case, the usual torpor of heat and humidity was aggravated by a sense of unarticulated isolation. I was even then coming into the need to come out of the closet to myself – and that made me half of a mismatched whole, only made worse by how much I loved my husband.
After Katrina – the storm, the shrimp that swam down St. Claude and over my feet as they rested on my porch, the carnival of looting that thinned into a horrifying march of beaten survivors who trudged towards the Superdome three days later – after all that, my husband and I bonded through the adventure of the aftermath. We were good at transitions, good at crisis. We left, came back, and resumed life newly defined by the long black line. We ate baloney sandwiches out of the back of the red-cross truck, wiped bleach over our surviving possessions, and traded stories by candlelight at Sugar Park with others from the neighborhood whom made it, or made it back early. Meanwhile, National Guard rattled in and out in the shadows, strangers wearing machine gun sashes. Squatting like troglodytes in the intermittent dark, we told our storm stories over and over. We were weaving a personal and collective narrative where we could hang our shattered faith. We eyed the armored soldiers, kids though they were, with resentful suspicion. Where were they when we were trapped and drowning? How did we, New Orleanians, become so vulnerable while oil companies and the politicians they own remain so untouchable? What “Heck of a job?!”
Five years later and shortly after I left my marriage, BP vomited 210 million gallons of oil into the gulf, twisting that same knife a full rotation deeper. By that time I had disentangled myself somewhat from the city. I have the habit of thinking of her as a lady, so you’ll understand when I say that New Orleans and I both acknowledged that even if I left, my heart would always belong to her. Now I live in Oakland, a place that doesn’t stir any strong feeling in me whatsoever. Things work here. It’s remarkably supportive of my goals. They collect compost for Christ’s sake. But I don’t think I’ll ever be in love with this place, and I’m ok with that for now.
That said, I am finding love here in abundance. I have little children in my life. I have my re-entrenched love for the stage, and I’ve recently met someone that feels like another exclamation-point full-stop next-chapter love. Maybe it’s this Venus retrograde summer of love’s-reckoning or maybe it’s the familiarity of new love’s frights and pleasures, but I’ve been lingering long and lovingly on relationships of the past. Abandoned memories surface. Pop-up panoramas bring new understanding. What stands out is the way that love abides after cycles of affection and disaffection complete themselves. That love is something that is carried for a lifetime, and even when it is heavy, it makes us stronger.
After the storm, when my Mamaw first visited the pile of rubble that was once her home in Biloxi, she didn’t experience her grief in that moment. Rather, she told me, she stood in awe at the wonderful power of nature to create and destroy. No one who lived through Katrina will tell you that Katrina destroyed their lives. It was people who betrayed us. It was power over compassion. It was the single most indisputable example in recent history that to those who hold the reins, black lives don’t matter. We live under an oligarchy, in a community deeply corroded by racism, and nowhere is that more apparent than New Orleans, before, during, and after the storm. I used to choose New Orleans because I felt closer to this reality there than anywhere else. Along the way, through the accumulation of broken marriages and neglected levees, my relationship with New Orleans shifted fundamentally. I won’t be running back into her arms any time soon, though sometimes I miss her terribly. I will always love that city with every chamber of my heart. On this ten year anniversary, that love is very heavy, and I am stronger for it.
– Raven Hinojosa
Photographs by Jayme Kalal