Community, Come Hell and High Water

Villa Platte, Louisiana is as good a place as any to start a discussion on the virtues of community and rootedness. This story of hospitality during the fury of Hurricane Rita last fall stands in sharp contrast to the ham-fisted relief efforts of FEMA and other big government bureaucracies. You’ll have to forgive the author’s political editorializing at points, but it’s worth reading. Here are a few money paragraphs:

Ville Platte’s homemade rescue and relief effort–organized around the popular slogan “If not us, then who?”–stands in striking contrast to the incompetence of higher levels of government as well as to the hostility of other, wealthier towns, including some white suburbs of New Orleans, toward influxes of evacuees, especially poor people of color. Indeed, Evangeline Parish as a whole has become a surprising island of interracial solidarity and self-organization in a state better known for incorrigible racism and corruption.

What makes Ville Platte and some of its neighboring communities so exceptional?

Part of the answer, we discovered, has been the subtle growth of a regional “nationalism” that has drawn southern Louisiana’s root cultures–African-American, black Creole, Cajun and French Indian–closer together in response to the grim and ever-growing threats of environmental and cultural extinction. There is a shared, painful recognition that the land is rapidly sinking and dying, as much from the onslaught of corporate globalization as from climate wrath.

If one wanted to be fashionably academic, Ville Platte’s big-heartedness might be construed as a conscious response to the “postcolonial” crisis of Acadiana. In plainer language, it is an act of love in a time of danger: a radical but traditionalist gesture that defies most of the simplistic antinomies–liberal versus conservative, red state versus blue state, freedom of choice versus family values, and so on–that the media use to categorize contemporary American life.


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