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I am New Orleans

Maybe it was the fact that I was forced to leave New Orleans, although it was for the good of my daughter and I, my heart didn’t want to leave and I left a part of me here. I was willing to endure the struggle that came with being a teen mom in New Orleans, but it wasn’t an option for me to stay. I was doing well in school, attained my high school diploma, was enrolled at Delgado part-time, I felt I was on track myself, but I had a very controlling drug dealing boyfriend and he was my daughter’s father.

I visited Minnesota the year prior in 1992 to spend the summer with my cousin and I couldn’t get back to New Orleans quick enough. I did not like it there at all, especially the people and the lack of good. Any city with one Popeye’s and the need to beg for a “hello” when you are walking pass another person is not the place for me. So, I came back hungry, blind and in love thinking he would do right by us, but I was wrong. He did get a job at one of the 5 star resturants, he had an apartment for us and a car, but he loved the streets. To make matters worse my daughter and I would be left home alone with no phone (cell phones weren’t in at the time, but he had a beeper) in a predominate white Uptown New Orleans neighbourhood across the street from a graveyard at that.

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he lifestyle he had us living in put us at risk on so many levels that my family intervened before the court, jail, or grave did. At that time we had a small one bedroom shotgun with only my bedroom set for furniture. I moved out when he was gone, leaving most of my belongings, clothes and all. I went back to my Mama house and in a couple of weeks I was on the Greyhound bus back to Minnesota. I had no choice, but to leave everything I loved in New Orleans in order for my daughter and I to have a better life.

As with so many New Orleanians, there’s always thought that maybe we’ll go back home someday, I was apart of that number. We visit for Mardi Gras, family reunions or come for a weekend getaway from “that place” we now live in. All it took was for snow or below zero weather to be in the forecast and I hit the road. We come to stock up on all things New Orleans, such as Camellia red beans, coffee with chicory, Patton hot sausage, seafood boil, gumbo file`, beignet mix, and so many other New Orleans delicacies.

The highlight of my trip would be visiting my Momo, just being in her presence was wonderful. I remember sitting in her small New Orleans kitchen eating her good cooking such as succotash, gumbo, red beans and rice with smoked sausage, pickled pig tails and hot sausage Omg, talk about good eats. Then her desserts, I didn’t care if it was bread pudding, sweet potato pie, 7up pound cake or pecan candy, because all of it was so good. There was no need to go to a restaurant, because her kitchen was a Foodie’s heaven. No one could duplicate her cooking, it came from her heart and soul, plus experience. Cooks in New Orleans come close, but it’s something about her cooking that no one could ever duplicate. I miss my Momo and I would give anything for a plate of her food right now.

I believe that all New Orleanians who moved to a different state try their darndest to stay true to the New Orleans way of life in their new city, I was a part of that number as well. We try our best to make do, while refusing to accept the new ways of our new enviroment.

I do not know what to call the lifestyle or the people in Minnesota, there’s no culture at all there. There’s something called “Minnesota Nice”, but that’s just a cover up and distraction for not being really nice, they’re not real at all. Though very helpful, generous and freely to give a boost up the ladder, in an instant they will pull away that ladder and watch you fall straight into the frozen Lake Minnetonka.

New Orleanians will go out of their way to show you love, but once they see you are unworthy of it they will give you a chance even if you have stabbed them in the back, they will love you even if it means loving you from afar. In Minnesota hospitality is earned, not automatically given like here. What’s so hard about speaking to someone, greeting a person walking past you? I have greeted people to have them not only not speak, but turn there noses and heads . It’s awful.

When one moves away from New Orleans, we hold on to everything we learned, experience in New Orleans. We also share our cultures and traditions with those we befriend in our new habitat. We refuse to call any place home, but New Orleans. Yes, home, New Orleans is home. I can tell you I’m going home when I’m living anywhere other than New Orleans after my vacation is over, but I actually mean I’m going to my house, not home as in my spirit. New Orleans is home. I do not care how long someone is gone from New Orleans once they leave, they will only know and refer to New Orleans as home.

What I do not understand is how some insinuate this when one moves away from New Orleans they are no longer a New Orleanian.? I have been questioned about my claim to the right to refer to myself as “Nola Chic.?? Apparently, some think that I do not deserve this title, because I was gone for 20 years? Recently, I was told, “How do you think you can come back to New Orleans after living in Minnesota for 20 years and call yourself Nola Chic? You are not from here anymore, you are a Minnesotan”. Really? How long does living away make me not a New Orleans anymore? Is there a guideline, rule or ordinance that states the timeframe one can use when saying where they are from New Orleans? There seems to be..

The last time I check my birth certificate states, I was born in New Orleans, my family tree lists ancestors who were born here and when some came to New Orleans. Not only was I born here, but I was raised in New Orleans. I graduated from a New Orleans high school. I do not understand how I can not be a “New Orleanian” anymore. At some point we all left New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina. Maybe the city officials feel the same way, putting a timeframe on when one can come back, by taking over family properties and dismantling the foundation of public housing and black families. Maybe, those displaced by Katrina, who have yet to return aren’t New Orleanians anymore, because they can not afford to be one.

I wonder if those who give out New Orleans heritage badges would freely give the title New Orleanian, to the ones they call transplants? Some of these transplants moved here when I left 20 years ago, their children were born in New Orleans and they have made New Orleans their home. How do they feel about transplants saying they are “New Orleanians”? I don’t get it.

What makes one a New Orleanian? I could go deep into it and label people who are born and raised here and never left, stayed and suffered through Katrina, those who claim to love New Orleans to be the true New Orleanian, but some of those may not do anything to ensure that our culture stays intact. Or should I give the title a true New Orleanians, to the transplant, because they love New Orleans so much that they packed up their lives, family and moved here? What about that person such as myself who moved away and was known as that New Orleans Chic, because she held on to her New Orleans culture and tradition? Is she not a true New Orleanian to you? We all in some form or fashion have what I call soul ties and love for New Orleans , right.

I moved to Minnesota in the early 90s, single, young and different, not a southern and diffently not a northerner. When they found out exactly what the difference was that I was from New Orleans, especially the boys, as you can guess everyone wanted to know who the new girl was. New Orleans people are special, exotic in their eyes and they love us.. Everyone, all over the world love New Orleans people, so much so we are treated like a celebrity. People ask you to talk, “say this please” they would ask only to mimic how what I just said. They mimic everything about us, our culture, music, food, how we talk, how we dress and even how we celebrate is copied, imitated all over the world. It’s something about us that people just wish they could be.

Even if I wanted to move and forget I was a New Orleanian the people would not let me. I would’ve needed to change my entire DNA, my mannerisms, my everything to hide my New Orleans heritage. There are people who leave their hometown, never to claim they are tied to the place, they change and when they finally come back, they are confronted with it. I’m not one of those people, I’m proud to be from New Orleans and I’m proud of my family who assisted in making New Orleans what she is. I’m back to help continue the legacy.

In Minnesota a friend of mines would always make fun of me for my New Orleans accent, always asking, “How is it that your whole family has lost most of their accent, but yours is still thick as if you’ve never left New Orleans?.” I’m not sure how you get rid of a dialect and I did not hold on to it intentionally either, maybe it was a combination of going home often, as well as I talk pretty fast. Whatever, it was I couldn’t get rid of that New Orleans accent, it did lessen some as I slowed down my talking in order to pronounce words effectively to the doctors and medical staff I worked with. With the phasing out of licensed practical nurses at Children’s Hospital, I found myself doing health unit coordinator work, such as Dr’s order transcription, answering the phone, call lights and so on. There were plenty of days were I found myself I using the New Orleans pronunciation of”Babe” instead of “Baby”. Some staff where very kind with the way I spoke, but I found myself being belittled by new doctors ofter.It wasn’t like I botched up words severly or was ignorant, but it gets tiresome repeating and spelling words out to those Northern folks. I was very self conscious of my accent for awhile, but good I was young and I was able to learned from it as well as embrace my New Orleans accent.

I’m not sorry, but New Orleans is in me.

Then there was my cooking my New Orleans way of cooking in Minnesota. As early as I can remember I love to be in the kitchen watching every move by the women in my family. I was able to participate when I was tall enough to see over the stove, which came rather fast, because I was tall for my age. My Mama gave made me an apron and my Daddy gave me a magnalite pot when I was 9 years old and my cooking career began.

I love to cook, but I loved seeing people eat my food. It’s such an awarding feeling to see the expressions on a person’s face when they taste that first bite. It was like a drug and early on I found that being consistent and having passion for food made the people I cooked for the happiest.

I learned about seasoning, spices and quality products when I was a little girl, my Mama would tell me, ” if ya don’t have everything, just don’t make it.” My first and last half attempt at making something half ass as we call it was actually a test. My Mama challenged me to make some thing out of the commodity products we had on hand. My mom is a very creative, artistic eccentric woman and very resourceful; if we had a little bit of nothing she made it something. She was so creative with the little bit of nothing we had at times we entitled the menu “Create Da Meal” lol and it was delicious. For example, she had turkey necks, some type of chili starter, white rice and trinity season blend. It was as she chopped, mixed and did bam while she cooked and the finish product was entitled, “Smothered Chili turkey necks with cheesy rice.” She was a “Chopped Superstar” before the show started.

Well, back to the challenge, one Saturday afternoon my mom told us we would make something with the shameful commodity products, stating if you really love to cook you would use what you have on hand and be able to make some tasty. I looked in the pantry staring at the commodity flour commodity, powdered eggs, commodity powdered milk and in the refrigerator sat a big block of government cheese. Tasty was the last thing I could create with these poor people food options. Actually. My Mama would make a “Ya Can’t Believe It’s Not Powdered Eggs Omelette “. If you do not know what a scrambled powdered eggs with government cheese and onions and bell pepper is then you haven’t lived yet or maybe ya lived too good. Lol The powedered egg omelet was about the only thing tasty I tasted with commodity foods. Speaking of that one, well two of the worst things to eat from the commodity foods was that beef, pork or chicken in the can and powdered milk. My Mama would try to trick us into drinking the milk by saving milk bottles and pouring the perpared powered milk in the bottle. With the pork or chicken in the can, she would make a salad thinking washing away the gunk, adding vegetables and seasoning would magically turn it into real chicken salad. It was an insult to my palate, because i love my Mama’s chicken salad on some Ritz crackers… She would end up feeding the dog or cat the canned meats after that and i think it should have been that way in the beginning, because if you ever smelled or tasted beef, pork or chicken in the can you would agree it’s pet food.

Anyway, we were avid readers, my mama made us read any and everything non-typical of children’s books. Our books shelves were stocked with National Geographic, veterinary books, encyclopedias, cookbooks, medical books and books of places from all over the world, but this day we needed to pull out a cookbook to find a recipe that matched our ingredients. Of course we didn’t a commodity cookbook LOL, but we made do. We found a recipe that was entitled cheese straws and made it. A cheese straws, well ours came tasting sort of like a Cheesy shortbread cookie, but definitely not Cheetos as it looked in the picture. One thing I remember was being happy that it did not taste like the powder egg. At 9 years old I successfully created my first “Create A Meal” and my Mama encouraged and allowed me to cook more often. Now, Im wondering if she offered up her kitchen, because she grew tired of cooking at home and at the restaurant she worked for. I know I grew tired of cooking everyday. I barely cook in my own kitchen any more.

At the young age 19 years old I had my own apartment and in my very own kitchen I created my very own dinners, well I actually had dinner parties. I was also known as the black Martha Stewart. I wouldn’t just cook I had to decorate the dining room at the table, create menus, I kinda would go over board lol. LOL. My little apartment stayed packed on Sunday’s and I loved it.

Most of the time my family and friends contributed the ingredients that I needed, so it was fair. Cooking that much and often was expensive, but everyone was supported me and loved my cooking. They would ask how I made my meals taste just as if I was cooking in New Orleans. I think a part of New Orleans cooking is cooking from your soul and your loving hands by way of your heart, by it helps a lot to have certain ingredients from New Orleans.

One way I would get some of my ingredients would be our road trips. Before we had them the money or even the thought to fly, we would take to the road, just like the the generations before us. All we knew of flying was it was very expensive and it wasn’t safe. It was commonly quoted that “if I die while traveling it would be on the ground”. We drove to New Orleans often too. I love going home, but. I wasn’t a fan of driving. However, the time spent in close confines with my family, having that quality time was awesome and priceless. I wasn’t a fan of distance driving nor bridges, so you know I never took turn of the wheel when we entered Louisiana at all.

My cousin who was a pro at driving used to say, I slowed her down, so I didn’t have to drive much anyway. New Orleans is about 1500 miles away from Minnesota and back in the 90s it would take us over 24 hours to get there. Over the years my cousin mastered the road, made friends with truck drivers and accidentally found a new route that cut the travel time. There’s a route that can have you in New Orleans in 17 hours including bathroom stops, no breaks though. Even with that timing driving just wasn’t for me.

While living in Minnesota we would go home for any reason, all it took was for someone to ask my cousin and she would hit the road. At times it would just be a 4 day trip, 2 days on the road and 2 days in New Orleans with little sleep. Driving meant we could pack up on food which was needed for me to stay consistent with my cooking. It was imperative that I kept all my important ingredients authentic of New Orleans or else it wasn’t New Orleans food. There is no gumbo without file` in my book, there’s no red beans like Camellia red beans, no mayonnaise like Blue Plate Mayonnaise, no French bread, no hot sausage, no pickle meat, I think you get my point. We will leave clothing behind just to make room for food lol.

The only thing we didn’t drive back with was crawfish, we ordered live crawfish in 50lb sacks and the company shipped package next day air mail. Yes, we were able to host crawfish boils in Minnesota! There’s a large Hmong population and they had grocery stores that sold fresh seafood, such as live blue crabs, fresh shrimp, fresh fish and anything that came out the waters. It was like going to a field trip seeing all the different meat, produce, seafood and other items the store had in stock. I’m not sure which waters they came out of, but the things I needed had the flavors of seafood in New Orleans. The only thing I ever notice was the crabs were no bigger than the palm of your hand, there was no picking your crab size like in New Orleans. Your only options were picking a male or female and the “bigger or fat ones”, theres’s no crabs ranging from small to exlarge like here . The Hmong grocery store had a bakery too, which sold a type of French bread similar to New Orleans French bread. I think it’s as close as anyone could duplicate outside of being made in Paris.

These were the very things that made living in Minnesota bearable and made the years fly by, but there’s no place like New Orleans. Being able to share New Orleans culture and cuisine with my family and friends was rewarding. Having ingredients native of New Orleans ensured I had that taste of New Orleans, but there’s no way I could ever label it “New Orleans Cuisine” soul food New Orleans fusion was printed on my menus. I think it was rightfully so, I wasn’t cooking out of a New Orleans kitchen. One things that works my nerve is a restaurant slapping the word New Orleans on the menu, in attempt to sell a product. Seriously, if I see blackened, Cajun and Creole on the menu and it doesn’t taste anything close to it makes me mad. Yo, give me back my money and stop with the foolery. It’s just an attempt to get people to buy those things listed. In my opinion it’s only New Orleans if it’s in New Orleans and made by a New Orleanian. I honestly believe there is something with the actual cooking being done in New Orleans that gives the food that is addicting taste. Maybe, it’s the water, or the altitude or the fact that we are below sea level or it’s just that magic of New Orleans that lingers in the air…

My popularity with cooking led me to a restaurant partnership initial with two brothers who happened to be from New Orleans as well. Isn’t that something meeting other New Orleanians with the same passions in Minnesota. The restaurant was name after the older brother Leonard “Nardie” Lowe, Nardie’s Cafe which served soul food and a few New Orleans inspired side dishes such as red beans & rice and jambalaya. I met Leonard in the late nineties after someone told him I was his competition. At the time I was selling my food on the weekends at a bar when I wasn’t working at the hospital. I would prepare the food at home, set up chafing dishes in the back of the bar, making plates in to-go boxes as they ordered. I always sold out in a few hours, leaving customers to go to Nardie’s to whine to him about the delicious meal they could have eaten lol. Initially, Leonard asked me to make desserts for the restaurant, in 2003 I took a part-time position that turned into a partnership. I loved it, I felt like I was living my dream career. I felt proud of myself too. Money was good for and I was happy.

In 2012 we were greeted with a variety of problems. The city decided to run the construction of the light rail right in front of the restaurant. The construction blocked major customer traffic, the sidewalk was torn up and we tried to let customers through the back, but that wasn’t good for business either. They would have to walk through the alley, past businesses dumpsters as well as our storage area, it hurt us bad. The loss of Nardie’s brother and our partner Louis followed right after. He died suddenly at the young 35 years old of a brain aneurysm. Leonard started planning to move back to New Orleans soon afterwards. I lost my daddy and brother Melvin in a short time frame as well and my grandmother was diagnosis with Alzheimer disease and given a couple of years to live. My brother Melvin was murdered six months after relocating to Minnesota after Hurricane Katrina over a parking spot. I sanked into a depression, because I sent for him. I thought Minnesota would be a safe haven for him, some peace after walking through the flood waters and over thee bridge only to live in the terrible cinditions at the SuperDome. Plus, it weighed heavily on me that he was killed in my car.. I was torn and broken from his death. I actually hated Minnesota and it proved that Minnesota is not nice at all. His murder and seversl hundreds remain cold cases to this day,

Life just seem to spiral downhill for us, but we kept on pushing until 2014. Leonard relocated to New Orleans in August of 2013, leaving me to run the business solo. I gave it a good year. I didn’t need to think long at all I was to move back to New Orleans after I took care of some personal issues. My son graduated high school and was headed to college, my older daughter was living in her own house with her husband and children, it was me and Niyah in a huge 6 bedroom. I ended our contract with the building’s owner and put my house on the market something I needed to get out of anyway. Not only was I not using the space of the house, I was recently informed that my front yard, which was over 150 yards long of hill surround by trees. The tree roots had grown into the septic system which would cost over $10k to repair. There was also the issue of the retaining wall separating from the house that housed thousands of Japanese beetles. After 20 years of living in icy cold Minnesota, my world finally found a way to set me free from the curse of Minnesota Icicle Life and send me back home, home to New Orleans.

My plans where to leave Minnesota in December 2014 and bring in the 2015 New Year in New Orleans, but wouldn’t work out that way I got sick while diagnosed with complex female issues that resulted in three surgeries and numerous treatments. I was happy my doctor caught it in time. Actually I’m blessed to have been diagnosed in Minnesota, because if it’s one thing I do not like about New Orleans, it’s the medical care and insurance, but there’s nothing worse than going under the knife by a new physician in a new state who wouldn’t know your history. By the summer of 2015 I was feeling better, but not totally 100%, but I started to plan my move again. I decided to continue to see my doctors in Minnesota even if it meant flying back in forth for my medical care. Intially, I planned to be in New Orleans for part of the holiday season December 26th through January 3rd 2015. I would bring in the 2016 New Year in New Orleans. On December 19, 2015, Leonard called me stating he recently moved into a townhouse and Niyah and could be his a roommate if I was serious about returning home to New Orleans. I took him up on his offer and we moved to New Orleans March 2016.

My soul never left my hometown, I carried New Orleans in my heart and soul. I shared New Orleans while living in Minnesota. I kept my family traditions intact for over the years, staying true to my New Orleans culture always. I had Mardi Gras parties, crawfish boils, I showed hospitality as if I was in New Orleans. I live in Minnesota as if I was in New Orleans only adapting to the climate and not their Minnesota Nice phony ways.

I do not care what they say or even your opinion about me not being a “New Orleanian”, because I left. Yes, my body left New Orleans, but my heart and soul made it feel as if I was here. New Orleans becomes a part of you, a part of your soul. New Orleans is of the air we breathe, in the music that sounds off in our hearts and has us dancing to it’s beat, no wonder so many people love it here. You come here to visit, have some fun, eat some great foot, but in the midst of it all you realize you’re having an experience of your life. It’s as if the citu opens up, laying you against her bosom to hear her heart, feel her soul. Before she sends you off to your hometown she cooks up the best dishes to feed your soul and belly. New Orleans leaves you craving for more as soon as your mind realizes you are not here to stay. You haven’t finished your meal or drink, the band is on their second set and the night has yet to end and you sit there looking at all the different faces, hearing conversations in different languages intermingling with the sounds of the band, you smile to yourself in awe of all that New Orleans has brought together. In the middle of it all you mentally plan your trip back before this one is over. You have no choice, your heart and soul have made up your mind, because there’s no place in the world like New Orleans. Instead of a goodbye New Orleans wraps her loving arms around you and whispers a sweet “Come back to see me soon, ya hear, Babe.”

Those who relate are obligated to New Orleans and all that it holds. We owe it to New Orleans to ensure that we can experience the New Orleans we fell in love with. Ensuring this feeling means advocating for New Orleans culture, our legacy and families, and traditions. Everything and all things New Orleans needs your help, if only by saying “No, no to the New New Orleans “. What will that look like, what would it feel like? I envision a watered-down pot of gumbo.

I am Nola Chic because I am New Orleans and New Orleans is me. If you feel the same native or born & raised, local transplant or visitor, I don’t blame you, there’s a real relationship between New Orleans and you. No matter who you are or where you live, New Orleans is in depts of your heart and soul.

Categories: Community, Culture, Life, Memoir, Non-fictionTags:
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