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Raising My Native Daughter

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New Orleanians can offer guidance to non-native moms.

MomsApril2016From the moment I set foot in New Orleans on vacation, I felt at home. It spoke to me in a way that South Florida never did. After a tropical storm back in Florida extended my weekend getaway into a 10-day stay, I knew that I’d found the place for me. I moved six months later.

In those months and the years that followed, I steeped myself in New Orleans culture, trying to learn and experience all of it. There was one fact that quickly became clear though — there are native New Orleanians and then there are the rest of us. We may naturalize. We may love this city. We may call it home. But we will never be natives. We weren’t blessed enough to be born here.

However, I married a native and am now tasked with raising my native daughter, who has ancestry going back generations on my husband’s side. He has a love/hate relationship with the city and, in my opinion, sometimes takes it for granted. That’s something I never want for our girl. I want her to grow up appreciating the gift she was given simply by being born here.

My husband had his first taste of how the rest of the world lives when he visited South Florida. He was shocked to find that he couldn’t buy liquor in the grocery store, let alone at any hour of the day. They didn’t get holidays for Mardi Gras. The closest thing they had was some cheesy decorations in bars touting drink specials and cheap imitation parades put on by some of the theme parks. There wasn’t a crawfish season or Abita beer. Heck, there was only one Catholic church in the whole city. No one cared where you went to high school and probably didn’t know your “mom’n’em.” Bodies were buried underground and no one danced at the funerals.

I want my daughter to understand what makes New Orleans so special, what a privilege it is to be a New Orleanian. But how do I do that when it’s not my birthplace to share with her? How do I teach her about so many things I never experienced growing up? Whether it’s Catholic customs like Lent, St. Joseph’s Altar and St. Nicholas Day or things uniquely New Orleans like Mardi Gras Indians, jazz and cooking, sometimes I feel like an imposter passing on traditions that don’t actually belong to me, no matter how many customs and conversations with locals I consume.

I’m so grateful to my native family and friends who have welcomed me into the city, shared their histories and taught me so many things. More than once, someone has saved me from making a fool of myself with a pronunciation. They’ve shown me the best spots to catch parades, how to peel and eat crawfish, where the levees broke, and where to find the best gumbo and the best live music in the city. Every day, they give me a little more confidence that I can do right by my daughter and the city, so that she may carry on my love affair with New Orleans.

So, I implore you, New Orleanians, to not only be my mentor and my daughter’s teacher, but to be mentors and teachers to anyone who loves New Orleans. They may not have been born here, but they love it like they were. Teach them well, and, if you see a mom like me scrambling for an answer to a little one’s question, chime in and teach me something mister!