A student asked once why we should study history. In actuality the question was more about asking for “one decent reason” for studying history, which gave me the impression that he was not a believer in the importance of studying history. Of course we should study it. I cannot even imagine the alternative. Is that even a question on people’s minds? We are more than ever a global community. If we ever want to know each other better, understand each other more, we must know and understand our origins.
As a tour guide in one of the oldest cities in the country, I often tell my guests that to understand us, to understand why we are the way we are, why we do the things that we do, and the way we do them, they absolutely must know about our roots, hear our stories, learn our history.
And quite a history it is! We have tragic origins, riddled with fires, floods, hurricanes, disease and epidemic, murder and catastrophe, and like the phoenix, each time we rise out of the ashes. We rebuild and build stronger and better. We bond together as a community. Maybe this is the reason why we celebrate everything; even funerals are a parade. We remember the life, not the death. We have had enough of death. Maybe that is why every celebration comes with food. Food is comfort. Food and music filled with soul fill our streets at every turn. It is a music that heals and was born right here. We sing our sadness and grief until we are not sad anymore.
This is a city that knows its history, and hopes not to have it repeat itself, at least not the bad stuff. To know and to understand our history is to understand us, and why we choose to stay, even when staying gets difficult. People come here to celebrate sometimes without really understanding the backstory. Some people were utterly amazed to hear that we celebrated Mardi Gras just six months after Katrina. How could we not? We needed a celebration to heal our wounds, to purge the memory of death, to feel like ourselves again. A city-wide jazz funeral for the hurricane devastation that quite nearly took it all away. They did not understand, but I did. We showed the world that our spirit and our will to survive are indestructible. We are the phoenix and we rise.