Entry 1: History of Community (Origins, Population Changes, Major Events, Significant Locations)

Norco stands for "New Orleans Refining Company." There are now several refineries located there, most notably a major Shell petroleum refinery. It was originally founded as a large sugar cane plantation by European settlers, mainly French, in colonial times. However, the cultivation of sugar cane was impossible without labor force, that is why they imported African slaves. This city has been famous for its history of slavery revolutionary, especially in the early 19 century. One of the names in history of this town is Charles Deslondes, who was a first free person of color that led a rebellion with many of his refugee followers. Today this city has been famous for annual gatherings to commemorate the events to people of color that reached for freedom.

A Major Event that occured in Norco is that in May of 1988, lightning struck part of the refinfery and started a major fire. There was much damage to the refinery, but according to a local resident who we interviewed most of the damage was done to residential areas farther away from the refinery and the town of Norco ended up being okay.

The total area of Norco is 3.4 square miles( of which 12.83% is water territory). In terms of demographics Norco's population is 3579 as of census of 2000. Today the population is approximately 3559 people.

The racial make up in majority is White (78.6%),African Americans (19.2%)and the rest of percentage belongs to minorities of Native Americans,Asian, Hispanic and Latino.

The median age of Norco is 38.3, 64% op population belongs to a group to 44 years of age, what implies pretty young population. For every 100 females there were 93.3 males.

The percentage of highly educated people can be described as low, which is only 1.5% while high school grads is 79.1%. In the statistics of occupation it is noticeable that majority population of Norco works in Sales and Office sector as well as Production and Transportation.

Average annual income for a household is $37,270 and the median income for a family was $46,446. The unemployment rate is 4.7% and recent job growth is positive. When compared to the rest of US cost of living is 1.33% lower than the US average.

The Crime of Norco,La on scale from 1-10,is 6 while US average is 3.it is composed of murder and non negligent manslaughter,forcible rape,robbery,and aggravated assault.

Religion statistics shows that 62.5% of population is religious, meaning 44.7%are Catholic,17% Protestant and rest of it affiliates to other religions.

Entry 2: Accurate Map From Google Earth

Outlined is what is considered officially Norco. It is hard to find definite boundaries for Norco because it is normally only defined as being part of St. Charles Parish, which includes other towns as well.

Entry 3: Demographic Profile From U.S. Census Website and Demographic Changes Between 1990 and 2000

Population of Norco
1990: 3,385
2000: 3,579

Demographic Makeup of St. Charles Parish
Persons under 5 years old, percent, 2008: 6.7%
Persons under 18 years old, percent, 2008: 26.2%
Persons 65 years old and over, percent, 2008: 9.8%
Female persons, percent, 2008: 51.1%
White persons, percent, 2008: 70.5%
Black persons, percent, 2008: 27.3%
American Indian and Alaska Native persons, percent, 2008: 0.3%
Asian persons, percent, 2008: 1.0%
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, percent, 2008: Less Than 0.5%
Persons reporting two or more races, percent, 2008: 0.9%
Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin, percent, 2008: 4.0%
White persons not Hispanic, percent, 2008: 67.0%
Living in same house in 1995 and 2000, pct 5 yrs old & over: 66.5%
Foreign born persons, percent, 2000: 2.5%
Language other than English spoken at home, pct age 5+, 2000: 6.7%
High school graduates, percent of persons age 25+, 2000: 80.0%
Bachelor's degree or higher, pct of persons age 25+, 2000: 17.5%
Persons with a disability, age 5+, 2000: 7,571
Mean travel time to work (minutes), workers age 16+, 2000: 26.5
Housing units, 2007: 19,928
Homeownership rate, 2000: 81.4%
Housing units in multi-unit structures, percent, 2000: 10.8%
Median value of owner-occupied housing units, 2000: $104,200
Households, 2000: 16,422
Persons per household, 2000: 2.90
Median household income, 2007: $54,998
Per capita money income, 1999: $19,054
Persons below poverty, percent, 2007: 10.8%

There have been no significant changes in the demographic makeup of Norco

Entry 4: Field Notes

September 20th, 2009

The freeway is too busy on the way there, so we have to take the long way, instead taking another busy road that runs parallel to the freeway. When we finally get to a spot on the freeway and hour later, there is no entrance ramp so we drive around for another 10 minutes looking for one. Construction during the middle of the day. An absurdity foreshadowing many, many more. When we get off of the freeway, there is swampland all around and it seems miraculous that the freeway is not flooded. Various shacks and old boats lay is disrepair a few yards from the side of the road. The trees look like the gnarltrees of Yoda’s planet of residence, Degobah. The water is covered in green. The road stretches for miles and miles until Destrehan, where there is a small commercial district. A few miles after that, signs of the plant become visible; pipes, smokestacks, smog. Eventually we get to Apple Street and turn left. On every streetlight there are banners with stripes and 14 stars, a seemingly random number. We continue to drive around until it’s clear that nothing is open because it is Sunday, barring the supermarket. We decide to drive down to the levee. We pass railroad tracks that look like they are about to collapse, various signs declaring that there is danger ahead, and pieces of heavy machinery. Eventually we get to a road that runs along a 4-wheel and motocross area. There are four shirtless boys about our age running their 4-wheelers up a mound of dirt and rolling back down in rapid succession for no apparent reason. On our way in to talk to them, a park ranger drives quickly up to us and asks us if we are with the four boys, and we say no. He drives away and we do as well. We continue along the road and see two men talking to each other. One gets into a car and drives away. The one that stays has a Florida license plate. We drive backEventually we pull up to the supermarket and there are about five or six cars in the parking lot. It is about the size of Bruff, which is incredibly small for a grocery store, even in a neighborhood this small. The four of us each buy something and Sean makes conversation with the girl at the register and they find out they have a mutual friend named Keith.We then head to small bay where people are fishing and crabbing. There are countless numbers of empty meat packages lying around and we can’t find a garbage. We get numerous dirty looks.We continue driving around try to get into the plant but can’t. We decide to head home.

-Colin Nugent

October 5th, 2009

This time we go with Sean’s friend Jeff, whom he affectionately refers to as “Jefe.” Jeff grew up in the area and went to Destrehan High School. Jeff says he has a list of places to take us, but that his girlfriend warned him not to take us to a certain place because “that’s where they find bodies.”
The drive there is much easier than last time.
Jeff decides to take us to New Sharpy, a heavily segregated area on the outskirts of Norco. The “black side” of the neighborhood is run down with the exception of two or three houses which Jeff tells us are the “Grandma’s houses” and that there are really only three families that live there and the rest of extended family just lives in the shacks. This information has not been verified. We drive past a cemetery with a sign declaring “No Unauthorized Burials” across the street from an abandoned house with a large “Keep Out” sign.
The “white side” is equally dirty, but more maintained. A man and his family stand outside and he watches what seems to be his daughter play while he sips a tallboy of Bud Light.
We decide to drive to Keith’s house. Inside there is wood paneling, empty bookcases with religious figurines and other trinkets. A large television set is playing a Will Smith movie, but Keith’s mom changes the channel and mutes it when we come in and introduce ourselves. She tells us about the conservative nature of the town, the history of it, various explosions, and a time when Keith almost got arrested for being near an altercation. Keith mentions a drunk poet that lives down the street off-handedly and brings out a framed picture of a fire at the plant from 1988. Before we leave, Jeff shows Keith his “Jesus bling” that he found on the side of the road. It is a figure of Jesus surrounded by plastic diamonds.
After, we drive to the lake. On the way, all of the trees are dead, and a truck almost runs us off the road. The road is unkempt and bumpy. When we get there, there are people fishing and again meat packaging thrown on the ground, except this time there are waste receptacles. We drive back, drop Jeff off at UNO and head back to Tulane.

-Colin Nugent

Entry 4 (Cont.): Field Notes

Sunday, 20 September, 2009
Approaching Norco from the highway, I could see from afar the refineries and chemical industries marking the entrance to the town. As we reached the plants, we passed under an awning of pipes, connecting the refineries on one side of the road to the side.

Our first priority was to explore the neighborhood surrounding Apple Street, the town’s narrow, main residential road flanked by small, mostly one-level homes with modest front yards. Many of the driveways featured SUVs or pickup trucks. I could see laundry drying on a clothes line in some backyards. Even from the neighborhood, I could see the smoke rising from the refineries. At the time, approximately 12:50 pm, several male residents were out mowing their front lawns. This reminded me of the description in
Working-Class Heroes of community members’ careful maintenance of their properties.

Occasionally, children rode by on their bicycles. One of the biking duos included a black child and a white child. I wondered what this said about Norco’s racial construct; does it mean that Norco, like Beltway, will welcome minorities into their neighborhood as long as their socioeconomic class and personal conduct fits the community’s values? I also noticed that along the road, telephone lines were decorated with 14-star American flags. At first I thought this was an adaptation of the Confederate flag, but then remembered that the Confederacy only had eleven states.

I tried to see whether most households had fences around their property and whether they kept their front doors open. I did not notice any open front doors; does this mean there is a high crime rate or that people do not interact much with their neighbors? However, because I saw barely any fences, locals must not try that hard to keep out other people.

In the undeveloped area of Norco near the river, across from yet even more chemical plants, we saw construction equipment, raised wooden railroad tracks and numerous “Danger: Do not enter” signs. So, like good sociologists, we checked out those off-limits areas. There, we discovered a large dirt territory reserved for motocross and RVing. Three shirtless, tattooed men on 4 wheelers unsuccessfully attempted to conquer a large dirt mound. As we observed these men, the park ranger approached us in a pick-up, and asked if we "were with those guys". We said no, and he rushed off towards them. After talking for several minutes, the ranger left and the men continued RVing.

In order to meet some townies, we stopped at a grocery store, where we split up into duos to speak to the locals on a more personal level. Walking around the supermarket, I noticed there was a section devoted to incomplete items, such as individual cans of beer or a 5-pack that was clearly once a 6-pack. I had never seen these before and thought it was “cute” that they sold individual beers. However, one group member informed me that those were items sold at clearance prices because people had stolen parts of them. Is stealing common in Norco? And if it was, what do most people steal? Why risk punishment for a single can of free beer?

During check-out, Sean and I spoke to a female cashier, who told us she went to Destrehan High School. We asked her where we could find a good restaurant, and she laughed, saying that there is “no good place to eat here”. Instead, most locals drive 10 to 15 minutes outside Norco to Destraham for any decent eating places. She said that most restaurants are closed Sunday nights. On education, she remarked that Norco offers one Catholic school with grades kindergarten through eighth. Higher education must be sought elsewhere, outside the city.

As we left Norco, we passed an outdoor recreation area. We visited the spot, located on a tributary of the lake. There were two parties here: a family with young children and a group of mid-twenties individuals. The family was fishing and jetskiing, where the other party enjoyed a few beers while crabbing. Overall, the only people I saw while in Norco were the neighborhood children and men, the RVers, the supermarket employees and the two groups by the water. This is a total of abut 20 people. Where was everyone else in Norco on a sunday? Do most people either engage in outdoor activities or stay inside at home since there is no entertainment? Does the lack of things to do motivate families to spend more time together or does it cause bored children to resort to deviant behavior for stimulation?

The Valero St. Charles Refinery, on the outskirts of the town, featured signs proclaiming “Our company, our community, our united way”. We drove through a public road cutting through the plant and discovered a chart of injury statistics. On that day, 117 days had passed since the last refinery accident and 146 days since the last chemical plant incident. I thought it was interesting that they publicized these statistics, since most corporations try to conceal any injuries. Maybe this is motivation about how great it is to work at the plant? That they managed to serve the refineries without sustaining any injuries?

I was amazed at how loud it was inside the plant complex; the sound of the machinery was ongoing. How does this affect the community surrounding the refinery? Do locals acclimate to the sounds? Do people have trouble sleeping? Overall, the factory seemed dusty and rusty; like an urban jungle. The fences had barbed wire and close
d off ares with signs declaring "U.S. Foreign Trade Zone". What does the refinery make, and do most residents know what cause they serve?

-Abigail Levner

Monday, 5 October, 2009

On October 5, we returned to Norco with Sean’s friend, Jeff, a Norco native and our new tour guide of the town. During the car ride, Jeff openly gave us an insider’s perspective to living in Norco and offered generous insight into its social structure.

“You either work in the plant or in Norco,” Jeff said. “Once you reach your 40s or 50s, you don’t care about leaving.” Jeff’s statements made it seem as though Norco is a town that you settle down in, grow roots and stay. People may have no desire to leave the town where they grew up and later served by working in the plants or at a small business.

To introduce us to a new side of Norco, Jeff directed us to a second residential neighborhood, which he labeled as the “black neighborhood” and “on the other side of the tracks”. This was in fact not a social metaphor but a factual statement: Norco seems to be divided in half by a railroad track, creating two distinct communities. I don’t know if the natives voluntarily or consciously zoned themselves into these districts, but it was interesting to be able to compare the two areas, especially since I had not even known a residential community existed away from Apple Street.
The homes on the main road through this neighborhood were well kept, similar to the homes in the first neighborhood. I tried to make small observations on the physical aspects that could lead to some social commentary, such as if front doors were left open or if there were fences around property lines. During our drive, I did not see any open front doors unless there was someone standing nearby or on the home’s front porch. The same is true of the “white” community; no open doors. However, unlike in the “white” community, this neighborhood did have fences around property lines. I don’t know if this is because the land plots here are larger than the ones in the first community, where there may not have been enough space allotted for physical boundaries, or because the residents here feel a need to define and protect their space.

While the homes along the main road were well maintained, as we strayed deeper into the neighborhood (which really was not that deep), the houses looked older and more dilapidated. Some houses sat on concrete blocks or stilts and there were a few trailers. Rusty cars and garbage decorated many front lawns. I saw several houses with people congregating on the front porch. Passing by one house in the back part of the area, I saw a group of about 5 black adults sitting on a front porch. They did not seem to be doing anything but talking and they looked at us curiously as we drove by. I am sure that the neighborhood residents are familiar with the people in their small community and immediately identified us as strangers. Maybe we gave them something interesting to discuss since they probably don’t encounter many “tourists”. Seeing this also reminded me of home, where my friends and I would often randomly stop friends’ houses to visit and would often spend hours hanging out in the basement or in the backyard talking about anything. This is a social activity in which many people partake and it does not necessarily exemplify “lazy” behavior, although the extent does vary. For instance, when we passed by this group it was around 3:30 pm on a Monday. Why were these people not at work? Do they work at night? Had they already finished work for the day? Are they employed?

Another comparison I noted between the neighborhoods was that this one offered more outdoor activities. It featured two playgrounds and a covered basketball court. No one was using them at these times, although there was a young white boy sitting alone on one the playground swings. The playgrounds were both fenced in. There was also a church and a small graveyard near the older homes. Like in the first neighborhood, there were no sidewalks at all.

After this tour, we returned to the Apple Street community and visited one of Sean’s high-school-aged friends, Keith, who welcomed us into his home to speak with him and his mother. We removed our shoes before entering the house through the garage and as we sat in their blue-carpeted living room with imitation wood paneling, I tried to juggle listening to this Keith’s mother tell us about Norco and absorbing the home’s arrangement. The room was about 10 by 15 feet with a couch, love seat and recliner arranged to focus on the flat screen television on the opposite wall. Family photographs, landscape and religious paintings covered the walls. Several built-in shelves held unused candles, small porcelain collectables and more family photographs.

Keith’s mother, who had been sitting on the couch with her laptop in front of her and watching television, seemed surprised to see us and amused by our project but was completely open to answering our questions, starting off with “Well, whatcha want to know?”

She told us that people stay in Norco generation after generation and usually work at salons or at one of the refineries. People are mostly Republicans, Christian and conservative. We learned that one of Norco’s plants had exploded in the 1980s, and as if to prove of the validity of this event, Keith presented us with a framed print-out photograph of the explosion that had been sitting in their living room. Later, the conversation moved to crime in the area, of which there was not much. Police mainly busied themselves with busting high school parties. According to Keith, the police one conducted Operation Snowsled, which involved raiding the houses of potential drug dealers or those in possession of drugs (mainly marijuana). Keith indulged us with a story of how he and his friends once witnessed a fight between some locals and the police and despite their impartial observation, Keith and his friends were almost tazed and forced to lie face down on the ground until his mother came to pick them up.

We left the home with some more insight into Norco life and headed for the lake. We drove down a long dirt road surrounded on both sides by leafless, dead-looking trees. Jeff told us the condition of these trees was due to acid rain.

We soon passed under a graffiti-embellished highway to the lakefront. There was no social activity here, except for an older man fishing alone.

Jeff continued to inform us of the health risks involved with living in Norco, referring to the area as “Cancer Alley”. I wondered if people here did die more commonly of cancer and how the factory affects community health, both physical and mental. Has the community fought to impose health regulations on the plants? Have other groups attempted but met opposition from the locals who may not mind the refineries?

-Abigail Levner

Entry 4 (Cont.): Field Notes

We reached Norco around 10:45 am. We drove down the road that cuts through one of the factories and saw all of the signs about being cautious and preventing all sorts of horrible things. We then went down apple street to the main grocery store and got two local newspapers. We went out to the spillway to read them. Near us were a bunch of adults that had gotten together I think to listen to the saints game. There weren’t many people out this day, probably because of that. The papers had a story about the parish and louisiana as a whole doing comparatively well in the recession. It also mentioned a 24 year old Tulane Student who is running for parish president for a second attempt. There was an article about a great grandmother who saw a vision of jesus who told her to go out and convert souls, a duty which she willingly accepted. It mentioned a prayer written by her. There was a list of the arrests, most were for DWI. There was a list of thefts, most were weedeaters and electronics. We saw an ad for the River Parishes Fall Festival at Sacred Heart School and Church in Norco. We went out there and it was like a small circus. We entered the raffle and went around and talked to people. It was almost all white. There was a black cop and a black lady serving food with a bunch of white people. There were also a few black male prisoners going around picking up trash all day. Abigail asked around about the reason for there only being thirteen starts on the american flags which patriotically line apple street but no one seems to know. One man described the reason he didn’t know is because no one knows because no one really cares and that nonchalance and indifference were pretty much the main characteristics of people in the area. “you know, whatever, just whatever.” Anyone near a television or radio was following the saints game. In the crafts room they were selling elvis pillows, lawn decorations, jewelry, cowboy boot lamps, and all sorts of things. When we left we drove around some of the same lowerclass neighborhoods and drove along a road coming directly from the dead end at the refinery. There was a lot of open lots with signs that read “private property of shell” with a couple of really beat up houses with african americans outisde of them scattered around. As we got farther away, houses got mildly nicer, closer together, and we eventually saw white people.

-Sean Simonson