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Why Return?

Posted By Neta, Mar 21, 2007

At first I wondered why anyone would want to return. Why return to an abandoned neighborhood, a demolished house, or a vandalized, moldy and water-damaged home? It seemed to me that a return would be too painful, would conjure up too many memories, and would defy the traditional comforts associated with home. It would be easier and healthier for residents to start afresh in a place where they are not surrounded by remnants of the disaster and where they do not have to fear the recurrence of a storm.

Despite my assumptions, so many displaced residents want to return home. Today, Alison and I interviewed a woman whose home suffered so much damage from the storm that it has been demolished. She is determined to return to the plot of land and rebuild the home that her parents built for her and her twelve siblings. Her commitment and loyalty to her family and to her community is astounding. She expressed to us that being detached from her plot of land is far more difficult than the fear, risk and pain of returning and rebuilding. She matter-of-factly stated that it is impossible to shield ourselves from disaster. To her, disaster is unpredictable and therefore she wants to return to the familiar rather than seek an artificial sense of security in a foreign place.

To many of the individuals and families we have met, a painful return is better than an even more painful relocation. Amidst all of the grief, loss, and destruction that Katrina left behind, many New Orleans residents have maintained their loyalty and strong local identity. They are committed to returning and rebuilding because of the comfort and sense of belonging that they derive from their homes and from the city. Their emotional attachment to home is so strong that it outweighs any fear of another disaster, another evacuation, and another devastation. I am impressed by their bravery and their loyalty.