Louisiana tribalism is hurting us

Greg Fischer Editor-in-chief

When the topic of Louisiana cities comes up, lately so does the word tribalism. This has nothing to do with Native American culture, in case you were wondering. It has everything to do with cities and towns in Louisiana Parishes that cannot see past the end of the block. And it only hurts the community that wants to shut itself out.

But it's hard to get people to change their minds sometimes, isn't it?

As you may have guessed, I have not always lived in St. Amant. I've also lived in Hammond, Mandeville, Baton Rouge, Kenner, Metairie, New Orleans, Houston, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Los Angeles, California; and Nijmegen, The Netherlands -- the life of a writer.

But, before I get booed off the stage for being an outsider, please note that I'm not. I'm a fifth or sixth generation Louisianan, originally from New Orleans. Although my last name is Fischer, I'm also a Landry. I'm also a Theriot. I'm also a Coste and a few other local names to be certain.

I can attest that in New Orleans, the popular phrase for this affliction is "tunnel vision." It's the notion that your city is the center of the universe, or that nothing else matters outside of it.

My idea is that it would suit Louisiana better if individual communities could see past their own noses more often. From my standpoint, I've lived in Los Angeles, for instance, where one can drive for two hours and still be in Los Angeles. What I can't get over is the tribalism here that causes one to act like Donaldsonville and Gonzales are on two different planets, when in reality they are a 20-minute drive from each other.

As editor of both the Weekly Citizen in Gonzales and The Donaldsonville Chief newspapers, one of the constant struggles is figuring out what news stories should be shared with both communities. And it shouldn't be that hard. The Weekly Citizen is the official journal of not only the Town of Sorrento and the City of Gonzales, but all of Ascension Parish. So it's safe to say that articles about Donaldsonville should be shared in a journal that covers the entire parish.

How about vice versa?

To further illustrate my point, my friend in the newspaper industry discussed with me recently that he once lived in St. Louis, Missouri. He said that during this time he realized that the first (or second) question people would ask is, "What high school did you go to?" This gave them a particularly clear picture of what socio-economic background you came from. It's a pretty ugly question to ask, if you think about it. Almost like asking someone immediately, "So, do you come from money?"

It's interesting that we like to ask each other the same question in Louisiana. It's also interesting that Donaldsonville and Gonzales would put on any airs about why claiming one city over the other should matter. After all, we all have friends and relatives who work at the plant, who fish, who farm, who cut hair in Baton Rouge, who paint, who play baseball, football, basketball for a hobby or who write. We're talking similar socio-economics!

Look, I understand that D'ville is much older and steeped in history than Gonzales, and also that Gonzales today is growing more rapidly, but at this point I mean, is it simply "fun" to stick to a community label so stringently that you miss out on what a neighboring community has to offer? If so, I don't get it. I'm actually of the opinion that the only thing that claiming anyplace over another, especially one which is so nearby, does is ultimately give the impression that you don't want any visitors. By saying I'm not going to the museum or to see a movie across the river gives the impression that only you are being unwelcoming.

If you are sympathetic to this at all, take solace in the fact that this issue of tribalism in Ascension Parish is not unique. My friends in the newspaper industry have the same exact issue with Leesville and DeRidder, and Houma and Thibodaux. At the same time, New Orleans may never get over the whole east bank, west bank divide.

So here we are. Similar people treating each other like outsiders, clinging to a square mile like it's the definition of heritage. I'm here to tell you that your real Louisiana heritage is broader and richer than you can imagine. It's much greater than you're getting credit for because it comes from God and lives within you. It has very little to do with the street you grew up on.

I would like to invite all communities in Ascension Parish to grow with one another. Put down your old family bloodline junk and hatred and biases and reach out to your neighbors before it's too late.

By the way, the old boy system is killing us.

In the meantime, I welcome all the communities in the parish to reach out to us at The Donaldsonville Chief and Weekly Citizen newspapers to spread the word about all the "local news." We're not psychic. We get the word to cover events from people in the community just like you.

Lastly, if we missed something in the paper it's because no one told us. We have a small staff of three writers, including myself. But this is what we love to do. Please don't ever think we don't want to cover your event. And please don't think I won't share interesting news from all the communities in the parish and beyond in both The Chief and the Citizen.