An L.A. Woman Embraces Her Ancestral New Orleans Home
By Lynell George
“Zigzagging through the crush of rush-hour commuters at L.A.’s Union Station, I’m hoping to make up for lost time. Suddenly, out of the edges of my vision, a man crosses in front of me, planting himself directly in my path. In a broad-brimmed Panama hat, cream-colored slacks and shoes to match, he’s a vision of not just another place, but another era.
“Where you from?” he asks.
I hold him in my gaze just long enough to assess the question: Rap? Ploy? Curiosity?
I land on the latter: “Los Angeles,” I say.
Without a beat, he lobs back: “Where’s your mama from?”
I let out an “I give” chuckle. Then: “New Orleans,” I respond. Full stop.
“Okay. Yes, of course.” He says nothing more, moves on so that I may do the same. But as I slide into my seat on the Metro, the exchange cycles through again and again, like always, leaving me wondering how I’m marked and how it shows.
I’m often asked versions of this same question by strangers, always other African Americans of a certain age. Where it might seem a logical inquiry within a train station—a busy hub between here and there, I’ve had it happen in other locales—markets or car washes, the dry cleaners. It’s a way of locating and understanding something essential about who we are, who we’re connected to as Americans—and who we were and what that means in a far-flung place—out of context. It’s a post-Great Migration inquiry. It’s often, in my experience, a “Southern thing”: “Oakland by way of Beaumont”; “San Bernardino by way of Knoxville.” But as time passes, and our favorite uncles and our first cousins become ancestors, I wonder how much longer we’ll be asking, and what it might mean to come from an ancestral elsewhere.”
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