When I say “rural Louisiana,” I know what y’all are thinking out there in California. But it’s not like that equally everywhere or with everyone here. Just as there are swamps and republicans in the Bay Area, there are Unitarians and three varieties of kale here.
In Southwest Louisiana, SWLA, the land is flat, the music is amazing, and they grow a lot of sugarcane. My friend Rene always makes sure I get to enjoy the best of what is here. Muffulettas, Zydeco music, regional art exhibits, and fun dinners under fans on the screened-in porch. In spite of the pandemic, I have gotten a distanced taste of almost everything.
For example, after the hurricane blew through, Rene and I went kayaking with a local organization that protects the Bayou Teche. We paddled down the lazy bayou with 50 other kayakers for several hours, listening to a cajun band playing on a barge. Not a single alligator! That day will be going in my highlights film.
Of course, it’s not all dragon murals and kayaking here. There are problems, and people making good trouble. My BFFs Robby and Carolyn have been organizing food bank distributions, getting out the vote, and making masks for people who can’t afford them.
And speaking of people who need a mask, New Iberia’s mayor has just rolled out his new Master Plan, which will guide the city’s spending on capital projects and services for years to come. When I heard this, I wanted to know more. Since I wasn’t in one of the Mayor’s hand-picked “bunch of groups,” I attended one of the Mayor’s scheduled presentations in the Mayor’s very own private building. Apparently, there is no other way to learn about the City’s Master Plan or to comment on it. I asked. https://www.iberianet.com/news/new-iberia-mayor-s-master-plan-for-historic-district-on-display-for-public-to-see/article_a9f317ba-1101-11eb-9782-27f0eced33ac.html
Still, wow, I learned a lot at the Mayor’s presentation. Maskless in a small space for an hour, the mayor explained how his new Master Plan would allocate millions of tax dollars to projects in the part of town that needs them least. Pocket parks, art, a new bandstand, an updated marina, a kayak dock, an improved skateboard ramp, new signage. Tearing out planters and rerouting sewer lines to install parking spaces on a street where parking is never a problem.
During the mayor’s presentation, I thought about how the city eliminated funding for the library, the pool and all children’s programs in the New Iberia neighborhood of West End, where most of the residents are low income and black — while retaining the same city services across the bayou where the residents are mostly not low income or black. https://kimmie53.com/2018/02/21/da-berrys-invisible-40/#more-8963
Now that the city apparently has money to spend, the mayor isn’t proposing to reinstate the defunded services to West End. He isn’t proposing desperately needed public transportation, housing improvements, or business development in West End. Instead, his master plan provides that West End will get “grass roots” “partnerships” between the police, the churches, and nonprofit organizations. Even the mayor’s literally infectious enthusiasm couldn’t mask the fact that he is proposing that the poorest part of town pull itself up by its bootstraps while proposing to fund non-essential development projects in the more prosperous parts of town. Apparently, they don’t call it a master plan for nothing.
To give the mayor credit, he is proposing a couple of projects in West End, such as a dog park. Very few residents in West End have dogs so I naturally wondered whether anyone talked to West End residents about what they wanted. The mayor also proposes an “African American” museum in West End. I wondered whether West End residents want a museum instead of a pool and children’s programs. I was reminded that some residents have been trying for years to get the existing New Iberia history museum to include the history of New Iberia’s black residents. Because, you know, they are 40% of the local population….
The mayor explained that his Master Plan projects will attract tourists. I think I speak for a lot of tourists when I say I don’t visit a small rural town in Louisiana because it has cute utility boxes and pocket parks. Most tourists want to learn about local culture and have fun. In New Iberia, it’s hard to find the truth about local culture (or even a muffuletta), and the feeling is not very fun (muffulettas would help). As Robby says, without truth, a community can’t really get to the other good stuff.
But there are pocket parks of hope in New Iberia. Deedy Johnson is running for City Council. Tai Porter Green is running for parish judge. And Lori Landry is running for the parish district attorney. So get out and vote y’all!!