I like to think the New Orleans question/cliche about where you went to high school is an inclusionary rather than exclusionary one: What might we have in common?, rather than What's your social status? The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
You've never heard of my high school. And it doesn't matter, anyway.
About 20 years ago, I packed everything I cared to take in a Penske van and drove across country to a new home — the Lower Quarter, New Orleans' 1990s version of Ellis Island, where so many people landed and proceeded to figure out the city. Like everyone else, I pronounced "Chartres" like it was a cousin of "chartreuse," and it took me a while to start saying "Esplanade" to make it rhyme with "lemonade." But I listened more than I talked and I refrained from telling people how anything was done better or differently elsewhere. I learned.
The gulf between natives and transplants in New Orleans is as real as the city's potholed streets — but potholes don't mean you can't get around town. New Orleans at its heart is reasonably welcoming, or at least reasonably accommodating. It's nice to live in a place where people largely don't care how much money you make or what you do for a living. They're more interested in what you can do — play the piano, hit a ball, sew a costume — and if you can do something, New Orleans will gladly make a place for you to do it.
Young people moving to the city is a centuries-old practice, but I wonder if there's ever been an avalanche of new people moving in to town as there has been in the last few years. In the generation I've been here, I've heard the many New Orleans accents fade. More and more, people here sound like people anywhere else — and more and more, the answer to "Where did you grow up?" is Brooklyn, Los Angeles or the Northwest, not Gentilly, Kenner or Madisonville.
No, I never went to De La Salle or Warren Easton or Isidore Newman. I went to a high school no one here would know. But at a recent party, I introduced two New Orleans natives who never met, and then added jokingly, "Brother Martin, meet Holy Cross."
I may not be a native — but on the other hand, they were the ones who had lived their whole lives here and never met each other. I knew them both. I may not be from New Orleans, but I've carved out my own small niche. That's plenty.