If my mother had gotten her way, I'd have been born in her native New Orleans. But she made a deal with my dad after they fell in love at Louisiana State University — a wager, really: Whoever found a job first would decide where they would live.
My mom longed to return to Lakeview. My dad favored his hometown of Baton Rouge, which in the 1970s was little more than a cow town. And in the '70s, the world was still very much a man's domain, so it's easy to guess which of the two business majors got a job offer first.
I was born in Baton Rouge in 1980. Two weeks later, I made the first of countless pilgrimages to my grandparents' Lakeview house. In a way, I was a displaced New Orleanian from birth.
My mother made sure I enjoyed all the idyllic parts of a New Orleans childhood (Proper upbringing, she would call it. Brainwashing, my father would retort.): trips to Pontchartrain Beach. Family picnics at City Park. I was a proud keyholding member at Storyland. I listened to my dad's band gig at the Rock 'n' Bowl and at age 10, I ate crawfish bread at my first Jazz Fest.
When I was 18, I moved here to attend Tulane University. Amid students who were mostly from Connecticut and New Jersey, I learned about the distinction between New Orleans natives and transplants. A New Orleans native was the coolest thing you could be. Tulane freshmen hung on their explanations of the city's quirks like boozy gospel from Bacchus himself.
You were considered a New Orleans native even if you were technically from Metairie. Even Kenner was sort of OK. But Baton Rouge? No way. Not only is Baton Rouge not New Orleans, it's the avatar of suburbia nightmares: a sprawling pastiche of three-bedroom ranch homes hemmed by coils of traffic-clogged freeways and smoldering chemical plants. I was definitely not a New Orleans native. But when I walk down Canal Street, past the hotel where my great-grandfather worked as a maintenance man, or drive down St. Claude Avenue, where my great aunt and uncle lived in the 1950s, I'm reminded I'm not quite an outsider, either.
The standards for being from here are so strict that I suspect there are a lot of people out there like me: people who aren't quite natives, aren't quite transplants, or just plain aren't New Orleanian enough. So I feel a welcome sense of inclusion when I read accounts of New Orleans and Baton Rouge fusing to make an economic super-region, or when I see the cities rallying to keep the LA Swift bus line that links them.
New Orleans is the city I've chosen to make my home. It's my literal motherland. But Baton Rouge is the place that birthed me, my fatherland. Being from both places doesn't make me less of a New Orleanian. I think it makes me the human equivalent of these two cities' region. I like to think it makes me super.