Five years to the date that Hurricane Katrina formed over Bahamian waters the rebuilding of New Orleans continues. The rebuild is bringing back the Big Easy to its former glory but has resulted some say in the ‘Chocolate City’, a name coined by former Mayor Ray Nagin, evolving to an ‘Enchilada Village’ a term coined by native performance artist Jose Torres-Tama.
Hispanics laborers starting arriving in New Orleans soon after Katrina left looking for work and they found it. Some left when fewer construction jobs were available but many others became enchanted with the city and decided to stay. Many are lured with the mild tropical-like weather, new job opportunities created by the Gulf oil spill and the Big Easy way of life full of music and food. The Hispanic population in the city has surged to 6.6% of the total 1.1 million population. This has made many locals unhappy and fearful.
The city’s large African-American population was the hardest hit by Katrina with many relocating to other cities leaving many others enmeshed in poverty and unemployment. So when the Hispanic labor force starting putting down roots, working and bringing their Latino culture, many saw this as their way of life being permanently erased. The reaction has been subtle, banning of roving taco trucks, to overt – state legislators considering allowing police to check immigration status.
Torres-Tama documentary “From Chocolate City to an Enchilada Village” has only added to the controversy. In his film he feels the Hispanic labor force is owed a debt of gratitude for their labor. He views their work as New Orleans “little secret of reconstruction” who helped rebuild the city while 80% of them were cheated out of their rightful wages a contention that is supported by the Southern Poverty Law Center.