What is Our Cultural Identity?

One of Shreveport’s poorly known cultural identifies, the Shreveport Flag. (shreveportflag.com)

Shreveport/Bossier suffers from a lack of cultural identity. As I have learned through the process of bringing the Shape of Shreveport documentary series to life, Shreveport is a mix that cannot seem to be defined. Thus far, that lack of identity is what defines our identity.
We see this as we look at our history and notice that Shreveport was formed as an outlaw town. It was a city made prosperous by Henry Shreve after some very questionable government contracts were issued by him, to himself when he cleared the Great Raft, the 165 mile log jam along the Red River back in the 1830’s. We are named after a man who never came back here to see us grow.

We are a city that feels and acts more like Texas in some ways. This goes back to our roots as the entry point to Texas along the Texas Trail. In so many other ways, we’re just like Louisiana and many other cities in the South.
We lost the Civil War, but not the battle for our city. A certain spirit was not broken, although that continues to prove to not always be a good thing.

As we embark on a new year, I have hope and anxiousness about seeing this city and community become a better place. A new year opens the door to confront our biggest issues and challenges, one of the biggest being just what exactly is our cultural identity. Dallas, Houston, Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Little Rock and many more all have a sense of identity in some meaningful way. Not coincidentally, these cities also grew beyond us as they rallied around their unique identities.

Austin is known for the “Keep Austin Weird” phrase. This motto became a rallying cry for Austin-ites until it became their city’s brand. What is Shreveport/Bossier’s brand? We don’t have to be weird, but we have to be something.

When we have no brand that quickly tells our story of who we are in our core or what we stand for, we are easily divided. It is not just a river dividing us. We are easily conquered, and we frankly are not very attractive to outsiders by how we act. In fact, outsiders are left to define us. The reviews they give us are not glowing, either.

We have so much to offer. We have overcome so much. We have so many resources and such a rich history.

We apologize for our city to others, especially those who move here for reasons we cannot easily explain like a family business tie or military enlistment. Nobody ever wants to date the moderate looking guy or girl who constantly displays a lack of self-confidence. It’s simply unattractive. This is who we are today.

We can choose to end this. We (YOU) have the power to change our lack of identity. This is not who we have to be tomorrow.

What are we learning? What can our history teach us? YOU are defining our identity, either by being part of claiming it, or being part of the masses who choose to not do anything about what ails us. I hope you will choose to converse often with others and wrestle down what our identity truly is. This place we call home is OURS. Stop apologizing for Shreveport, stop sitting on the sidelines and let’s define what our city is, together. Bring your ideas to the table.

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