Ruminations on my home state.

I have studied Louisiana from both ends.  I grew up in Shreveport, but have now been in New Orleans for almost a quarter century.

Louisiana is an odd, diverse place.  North Louisiana has always existed in both geographic and cultural isolation vis-à-vis the southern part of the state.  The state did not even have a complete north-south interstate highway until the early 1990’s, and there was quite a bit of mutual suspicion across the divide.  South Louisiana had most of the people and got most of the money and notoriety.  Northerners always had a bit of an unspoken inferiority complex which, in my opinion, inspired its people to find reasons to look down upon the south.  Much of this was based in religion.  North Louisiana had always been Protestant, mainly Baptist, and culturally had much more in common with places like East Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and the rest of the deep south.  South Louisiana was Catholic, and Cajun, and Creole (whatever that meant – most folks had no clue) and was therefore “other.”  People had funny sounding French names, and weird music.  They drank — a LOT.  Alcohol was easily accessible in places like Lafayette, whereas God-fearing communities like Shreveport imposed blue laws which for the longest time prevented people from purchasing even beer and wine on Sunday.

While many of my fellow Shreveporters had a strong appreciation for New Orleans, there were some who dismissively condemned it as a city full of drunks and prostitutes.  I remember being told as a child that the city was filthy and that the streets smelled of urine.  While at times this may have been (and occasionally still is) true, there was quite a bit of exaggeration coming from people who never spent any time there.  It was into this divided world that I was born, grew up, and ultimately assimilated.  I am happy to report that these divisions have begun to dissolve over the last two decades, due in part to a loosening of the strict moralistic culture in the north (heck, they now have Mardi Gras parades in Shreveport, although none on Fat Tuesday).

Demographics aside, Louisiana is a state with many problems, including poverty, environmental degradation, corruption, and a lack of quality public education.  But we sure know how to throw a party.  And that’s a good thing.


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