When I tell folks I’m heading down to Louisiana to spend Thanksgiving with my girlfriend and her family, they assume I’ll be staying in New Orleans or Baton Rouge. I’ve never visited those cities, though I’d like to, but it seems my first social visit to the Deep South will be a rural town of about 13,000 people, named after a Dutch embezzler, Baron de Bastrop, who claimed to be a nobleman when he first set foot in what was then a Spanish colony of northern Mexico.
The International Paper Company mill and Pilgrims Pride poultry plant have shut down over the last two years in Bastrop. I assume that means the census figures from 2000 understate the levels of poverty for this mostly African-American town where even then the per capita income was $10,769 and the median household income was $20, 418.
Like much of this part of the South, it’s strictly segregated. Though I suppose, for a few days this week the demographics might shift slightly, after all, the 21st century has come even to Louisiana. I think. But I am likely to be the town’s only Jewish lesbian socialist staying with a Black family. Or any family.
My partner’s clan is a cosmopolitan bunch. Like a wave of her father’s generation who got out in the 50s when prospects for educated Black men were abysmal, he’s returned to live off his Northern union pension. I’m excited about meeting everyone and escaping the city for a few days of warmth, wine and my first-ever fried turkey.
I’ll be leaving the laptop behind and I’m packing a copy of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. Catch you all back here next Monday.
My next speaking gig will be at the University of Pennsylvania, Thursday, Dec. 2, 7PM, “Stand Up and Speak Out: A Conversation with LGBT Activist Sherry Wolf.”