Read it and weep: Louisiana ranks #3 in the nation in crime, according to a new article in CQ Press. Some of this might be due to the fact that New Orleans is so notoriously crime ridden...witness this report from Easter weekend (15 shot, two dead, over a single weekend). Makes me think all of us gorging ourselves on beignets and iced coffee at Cafe du Monde have no idea what's really going on behind the scenes. But is it all New Orleans?
During a moment of idle Googling at Starbucks, I stumbled upon an article by a researcher on the psychology of place. I emailed him and asked him to send me a pdf of the article, which appeared in a publication called The Journal of Environmental Psychology...which turned out to be a revalation. Not only was the article interesting, but it gave me the name for the discipline I've been looking for--environmental psychology--for people who study the sense of attachment and identity we get from place. Environmental Psychology. Aha!
Here, below, is a snippet of what I've been reading today, on yet another working afternoon at Starbucks...I'm especially intrigued by the notion that place-identity can change throughout your life--though of course this makes sense, too.
Aspects of identity linked to place can be described as "place-identity." The term has been in use since the late 1970s (Proshansky, 1978), and is here, as originally, typed with a hyphen. Place-identity has been described as the individual's incorporation of place into the larger concept of self (Proshansky, Fabian & Kaminoff, 1983), defined as a "potpourri of memories, conceptions, interpretations, ideas, and related feelings about specific physical settings, as well as types of settings" (1983, p. 60). Place attachment is considered a part of place-identity, but place-identity is more than attachment. Place-identity is a substructure of self-identity, much like gender and social class, and is comprised of perceptions and comprehensions regarding the environment. These perceptions and conceptions can be organized into two types of clusters; one type consists of memories, thoughts, values and settings, and the second type consists of the relationship among different settings (home, school, and neighborhood; Proshansky & Fabian, 1987).
Identity develops as children learn to differentiate themselves from people around them, and in the same way, place-identity develops as a child learns to see her or himself as distinct from, but related to, the physical environment. Among the first identity determinants are those rooted in the child's experience with toys, clothes and rooms. The home is the environment of primary importance, followed by the neighborhood and the school. Here, social and environmental skills and relationships are learned, and the "lenses" are formed through which the child later will recognize, evaluate and create places. Place-identity changes occur throughout a person's lifetime (Proshansky & Fabian, 1987). Five central functions of place-identity have been depicted; recognition, meaning, expressive-requirement, mediating change, and anxiety and defense function. Place-identity becomes a cognitive "database" against which every physical setting is experienced (Proshansky et al., 1983).
It's a blog documenting the efforts of audio documentarian Richard Ziglar and reporter Barry Yeoman, a native Louisianan to chronicle their "...research and travels as we produce the one-hour radio documentary Still Singing the Blues." The actual documentary, they say, is scheduled to air in the spring of 2010.
Some of you may remember that I wrote about a place called Johnson's Grocery--home of the best boudin I've ever tasted, and one of the nicest cowboy hat wearing guys I've ever met--awhile back. You might also remember that it was unclear whether Johnson's was going to stay open. I was really sad to hear that it wasn't...but good news just arrived in the form of a note from Rhett Johnson, of the Johnson clan, informing that they'd re-opened in Lafayette as Johnson's Boucaniere (Cajun French for smokehouse). "We R proud to say that we have won the award for best boudin in the area," writes Rhett. And they ship! More on that when I get more information. Sadly we were just in Lafayette in September and had NO idea. We made do with Poche's boudin, but....Wish I had another trip to Lafayette planned soon. Meanwhile, here's one review, if you find yourself in the area.
I’m trying to figure out what Louisiana means to me.
It’s the place my mother was born, in a town called DeRidder, in the western part of the state. It is the place my grandmother, Aurelia, who was Scarlet O’Hara’s bleach blond twin, was raised, too. And her mother, Anne—my great-grandmother. There’s a tiny cemetery, the Creel Family Cemetery, in Reeves, a tiny town not too far from DeRidder, where the Creel family farm used to be. Anne was a Creel. She moved to DeRidder—a metropolis compared to Reeves, but tiny by most standards--with the insurance money from her first husband’s death. She ran a rooming house, in which she raised Aurelia and Aurelia’s brother, LaRue. And, for a time, she raised my mother, as well.
But I digress already. The point is, this family is, or was, so rooted, so of a place. In that tiny cemetery are generations of extended family. And along those back roads, you can find other family cemeteries, too. How often do you see that? My mother ended up moving north when she was 16. She went to college in Virginia and married a northerner and settled in the north. Or the relative north. I grew up in Bethesda, Maryland. And I grew up with a sick brother, which meant we couldn’t travel often. And my southern relatives weren’t, for the most part, the traveling type. So I grew up not knowing them, or Louisiana, well. And because of that, I think there’s a part of my mother, and grandmother, and myself, that eludes me, too.
Here’s what I think: I think this is a story about identity, and the identity we get from place. We inherit that identity from our parents and where they, and their family of origin, are from. So what happens, what does it mean, when so many of us get geographically further and further away from those places or origin? In my case, it’s also a story about north and south…because, though these people in the south are my family, though this place is part of my heritage, I’m not sure I can know it, by virtue of the northern latitude where I grew up. Can a northerner truly understand a southerner—even if they are members of the same family?
This was brought home to me recently, as I talked with my mother about LaRue, who she, and thus I, called Brother. I was telling her that, when we were down for Aurelia’s funeral, I kept trying to get Brother to tell me stories about Aurelia, growing up. I really just wanted to know more about her, and why she was the way she was. (I’ll get to the way she was in a future post.) But he was evasive. Just kept wiggling the toothpick in the corner of his mouth, looking straight ahead as he drove us down the back roads of Louisiana, en route to see one relative or another. “I don’t know Shug,” he’d drawl. (Shug was short for sugar.) My mother said, “Well, it’s kind of a southern way with outsiders.” Touché. And ouch.
Because I wasn’t an outsider. But then again, I was. I am. So where does that leave me?