When a nation becomes a community

Anxiously, I’ve been tracking from afar the movements of Hurricane Gustav. From the e-coverage, I draw an encouraging note: Americans of all stripes are demonstrating their concern for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. State governments are at the ready, the GOP convention is turned upside down, and Gustav dominates the electronic print media. There are all number of plausible reasons for this: leftover guilt from the pathetic response to Katrina three years ago, or political calculation of voters’ sympathies in the run-up to November, for example. But even if national politicians are looking out for number one, their calculation must be that their constituents actually care about what happens to their southern brothers and sisters, and so they should too.

One of my chief drivers for traveling (and working with MPI) is this: to work and live and breathe in another country is to make that place and its people part of your own community. I follow Zimbabwean politics because I became friends with Zimbabweans during my time in Botswana; Zak tracks Gustav’s path as obsessively as I do because, yankee that he is, he made New Orleans his home and New Orleanians his friends.

What I want – and what I hope we at MPI contribute to – is for Americans to extend their community a little farther south than Plaquemines Parish. The way that Americans now consider folks from Louisiana “us” rather than “them,” can we not also do for those who have already battled Gustav in Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic? Sure, they talk kinda funny down there and eat strange things, but hell – have some boudin on a New Orleans sidestreet and then tell me that we don’t, too.

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