We are NOLA

We are NOLA

Get movin’!

Get movin’!

Click aqui para español- >¡Muévete!

Mobility has always been a problem for humans. Our earliest ancestors used to carry things back and forth with nothing but their body strength. Eventually, someone invented the wheel. The wheel transformed humanity. No longer did people have to carry everything. Now, they could roll things where they needed them to be. Fast-forwarded a few hundred years and man began to power their machines with steam, coal, and wood. Bicycles were invented so people could pedal themselves across town. Then Henry Ford invented the assembly line and started producing automobiles that nearly anyone could afford.

Of course, man wasn’t only tied to the ground. Humans took flight over the last several hundred years through advances in physics and engineering. We were now able to get to most places on the planet, compared to our ancestors who could only dream of transporting water from the river to their villages in jars balanced on their heads.

All these advancements influenced how and where we settled. Most major cities are near a river or an ocean—the world’s original highways. Later, as we changed transportation styles, we were able to settle places like Las Vegas and Denver—far from sources of water. The look and feel of our cities are tied to transportation and density. If your city developed in the 1900’s, chances are, there are large highways for the movement of cars. It’s likely difficult to get around without a car. The population is likely to be more obese because people walk less. If your city was settled before the invention of the automobile, like New Orleans and most cities in Latin America, you’ll notice narrow streets, smaller homes, and distinct neighborhoods because people were used to living within a more confined area.

As I write this article, I am on my way to Florence, Italy, and Berlin, Germany—two older and dense cities. I personally like visiting these places because they allow me to walk easily everywhere. I don’t have to rent a car, and I can walk around and see everything the city has to offer.

Luckily for me, I live in New Orleans, which gives me the same advantages in my everyday life. We live in a small, big city—all the amenities of a large city, but in a compact area. When the weather is nice, I can walk to work, or to the French Quarter, or just to get a cup of coffee. Besides destressing, the exercise is good for my heart, and helps me maintain my weight—although I probably could lose a little more.

For those of us who have been here since before 2005, our methods of urban transportation have changed drastically. Most of us remember when the only option was the bus or your personal vehicle. The streetcars were an Uptown thing and not close to our homes. Today, the City of New Orleans has over 100 miles of bike lanes and counting. Recent safety measures that have been implemented are making walking and biking in New Orleans safer for everyone. It’s true that some people are complaining about this new addition to the driving experience in New Orleans, but like every other city—we change.

Take some time to learn about the new transportation methods available to us in New Orleans and you’ll see just how similar we are to Latin American and European cities. Rent a Blue Bike and visit the new Moon Walk along the river. Catch the streetcar from the cemeteries to downtown. Ride through Mid-City on a dedicated pedestrian path called the Lafitte Greenway. Autumn is here. Get outside and enjoy your pedestrian-friendlier city!




We are all Americans, Right?

We are all Americans, Right?

By Christopher Ard

Click aqui para español->Todos somos Americanos…¿no?

Happy Columbus Day! or maybe it’s better to say Feliz Día de la Raíz! Either way, let’s celebrate America! Land that I love. Land of the free. Home of the brave. There’s just one problem--what is America? Most of you reading this are likely of Latin American descent. So, does that make you American? When the United States government asks for nationality, do you say American? There are many Americas, from the north to the south. There’s Spanish America and Portuguese America, and even a little French America, which together make up Latin America. But there’s also Central America, but then there’s the United States which claims the overall title of American. So then, what does America mean? For a few years, Columbus and other European experts thought they had sailed around the world and arrived in Asia. Until that time, spices and other goods were transported across Asia and Europe. So, when Columbus landed he saw the native people and their brown skin and thought, “Oh, these are Indians.” That’s the reason why many people today still call native people Indians. It was a big mistake, based on racism and a lack of a knowledge about this new land. Through his knowledge of the stars, descriptions of Asia, and his own mapping skills, Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian explorer figured out that this new world was much larger than everyone suspected back in Europe and was, in fact, an entirely different continent--or two! Amerigo had figured out that what he and Columbus were exploring were North and South America, two entirely different continents. As a reward for his discovery, map makers started labeling the new world as America--the female version of Americus, Latin for his name. Fast-forward a few years and Europeans began pouring into the new world, some with slaves. Some of these people spoke French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and English. The largest divisions were between Brazil--where the Portuguese landed--and the rest of South America where the Spanish had a majority control. The next division was basically right here in New Orleans, where Spanish, French, and English were spoken depending upon which part of town you were in. If you left the city to the East, you’d find the United States citizens who spoke English. Leaving the city to the West, you came across Spanish territory where they spoke Spanish. (Ever heard of the Zwolle Tamale festival in western Louisiana?) Before the Louisiana Purchase, you could say anything West and South of the Mississippi River was Latin America. Today that line is now the United States-Mexican border. But if we’re being honest, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Nevada could all be considered part of Latin America because of cultural similarities. Finally, there’s the most confusing part of this story--where is Central America? Central America is not a continent. It is, in fact, geologically part of the North American continent. But that’s not enough to stop everyone from making up their own definitions for Central America. The United Nations refers to Central America as all countries from Mexico to Panama. The British include parts of Mexico to Panama. The Portuguese include all the Caribbean Islands as Central America. And finally, if you say Middle America, then you’re referring to all lands from Mexico to Colombia and Venezuela. To make everything more complicated, in many countries of Latin America only 5 continents are taught in schools, with America being one, though divided in 3 regions. This contradicts the teachings from other places that divide the land into 2 continents: North America and South America. You see, America is a label applied by the Europeans to the new world--this giant land mass between Europe and Asia. They never intended for the term American to only be used by the people of the United States, and honestly, I don’t think the United States means any disrespect. Simply put, if they stop using American, is there another word in the English language to describe citizens of the United States? Maybe it’s time we invent one.

Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month

By Christopher Ard

Click aqui para español->Mes de la Herencia Hispana

Every year, from September 15 to October 15, the United States observes National Hispanic Heritage month. During this time, the nation celebrates the significant contributions made by Hispanics to the cultural fabric of the United States. But there’s a problem…or two... What the hell does Hispanic mean?

In our nation’s need to categorize everything, the United States had a problem when it came to people from the southwest and Latin America. Originally, the terms Spanish-Americans, Spanish-speaking Americans, and (my favorite) Spanish-surnamed Americans were used to describe this group of people. However, the leaders of our country quickly realized that not every Latino could speak Spanish, not all Latinos have Spanish last names, and many Latin Americans are actually native American with no Spanish ancestry.

So, the term Hispanic was invented to group all of us who dance, eat beans, live south of Texas and Florida, are likely Catholic, and usually a shade or two browner than most people. It derived from the term Hispania which is the old Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula which has something to do with rabbits--but that’s not what this article is about.

Since 1988, after Ronald Reagan signed the National Hispanic Heritage Month into law, there has been much controversy about the name. Probably the biggest problem with the name is that it leaves out Brazilians. That’s right--National Hispanic Heritage month leaves out the most populous country in Latin America; although if you ask a Brazilian-American, they absolutely identify with other Latinos.

While the name of the month-long celebration may be a bit out-of-date, the timing of the holiday couldn’t be more appropriate. The independence days of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica are all on September 15th. Mexico’s independence is on the 16th, while Chile celebrates on the 18th.

Of course, like it or not, the United States celebrates Christopher Columbus’ conquest of the Americas on October 12--although many of us may know it as Dia de la Raza, or Day of the Race which is a great way to end this article.

Most Latinos outside of the United States don’t refer to themselves as Latinos. They are more likely to identify with their country of origin, or even their region of the country. Terms like Latino, Hispanic, Spanish-speakers, etc., were used to identify something or some people who were new to the current culture. At times, this was done to marginalize minorities because the dominant culture felt threatened. But, they were also used to unite a group of people who share a very similar culture. Some of us dance salsa, some bachata, others champeta colombiana.

Some of us speak Castellano, Quichua, Portuguese, and/or English. Many of us are Catholic, but not all of us go to church. This National Hispanic Heritage Month take a moment to learn about the other countries of Latin America--including Brazil; after all, we’re all related... at least according to the United States government.


By Christopher Ard

Click aqui para español->Huracán

It’s August in New Orleans and that means two things--heat and hurricanes. August and September are considered the height of hurricane season in New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast and Caribbean.

Each year, we nervously watch the daily weather updates hoping that nothing is coming our way. The thought of a major hurricane destroying our homes, our communities, and life as we know it, strikes fear in most New Orleanians who have been through a hurricane. However, the Native Americans offer a unique perspective. The English word hurricane comes from the Native Americans of the Caribbean.

The Taíno of Puerto Rico had a word to describe these large spiraling storms that would come about during the summer. When the Spanish arrived, they borrowed the word and spelled it Huracán. The word Huracán was also shared with other native peoples within the hurricane belt of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

While the spellings and stories about these storms differ across cultures, there is one central theme that is often overlooked. Like many early cultures, the native people of the Caribbean understood that life was not always happy and not always sad. There was an equilibrium that occurred in nature. You can think of this as day and night, male and female, hot and cold, etc. The native peoples understood that nothing was permanent: Along with life comes death, but after death, life comes again.

This theme of an infinite spiral of chaos and life can be seen in the Taíno version of the hurricane. The symbol they used depicts the face of Guabancex, or “the one who destroys everything” with two long and curly arms spiraling out of her face. We use a version of this symbol today to depict hurricanes on our modern weather maps.

 The Mayan story of the god Huracán survived the European conquest better than most of the other cultures. According to the Mayans, Huracán was one of the creation gods, who could create great destruction or build new worlds. It was Huracán that destroyed the earlier versions of the earth with fire and then a great flood. Each time he destroyed the earth, Huracán gathered up materials and started new. He commanded the land rise out of the sea and then he created humans from a dough made of corn.

While we, today, associate hurricanes as powerful wind and rain storms, the Maya understood these storms a bit more in depth. The Yucatan Peninsula is a large flat area of land that is situated at one end of the Caribbean--directly in the path of the most powerful hurricanes and the center of the Mayan universe. The Maya knew that a hurricane wasn’t just the single storm alone.

As these storms blew through the region, they would knock down enormous swaths of forest. After the rainy season, the fallen trees would dry out. One bolt of lightning could then ignite the trees and huge fires would then sweep across the Yucatan. The now deforested land would then be susceptible to flooding. Of course, there was also the large storm surges--large waves that would wash far up onto the land, changing the coast line. For this reason, to the Maya, Huracán was more than the initial wind and rain. Huracán encompassed all the power of these great storms--including their aftermath and the renewal of the land.

The word hurricane comes from the Americas--from the native peoples of Latin America--and they never intended for it to be a scary word. Our ancestors acknowledged all aspects of the hurricane--the destruction and the renewal; and that’s how we should see them, along with other disasters in our lives.

 There will always be hurricanes, and floods, and fires, but with these disasters come opportunities to grow stronger and better. It may not be the easiest thing to do, but the next time you’re faced with a disaster take a step back and look at the entire picture. Life is an infinite spiral of ups and downs, of tears and laughs, of births and deaths. A hurricane is just nature giving us a chance to renew.

“La ciudad de New Orleans se parece a Barranquilla”

“La ciudad de New Orleans se parece a Barranquilla”

By Christopher Ard

Click aqui para español-> “La ciudad de New Orleans se parece a Barranquilla”

If you've lived in New Orleans over the last 40 years, you'll recall that North Rampart Street and Basin Street were not exactly the most popular destinations in town; it wasn't always like that. Many of us know that on the corner of North Rampart and Saint Peter Street there is a small park known as Congo Square.

In the early days of our city, slaves were allowed to congregate across Rampart Street from the French Quarter. It was here that United States’ first original music,jazz, was created. Just down the street from this location, at the corner of Canal Street and Basin Street, there is a statue of Simon Bolivar, the liberator of Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela, Peru, and Bolivia.

In 1957, the Bolivarian Society of Louisiana gifted the City of New Orleans this statue in recognition of the city’s strong economic and cultural ties to what was once known as Gran Colombia. Today, the connection to that region now goes a little deeper. At the corner of North Rampart and St Peter, on Friday and Saturday nights, Octavio Ycaza and his brother can be found cooking in the front room of the Black Penny bar. His pop-up restaurant, Miti Miti, has become quite the sensation on a rapidly changing Rampart Street.

Unlike the typical large, heavy meals offered in most New Orleans restaurants, Miti Miti’s menu features what Octavio refers to as Ecuadorian Street-food or beach-food. Patrons can choose from menu items such as llapingachos, various empanadas, a delicious ceviche, or sango de camaron, just to name a few. With a new menu every week, Miti Miti is bringing to New Orleans food not typically found in our city, and on top of that,he stays open late night

Recently, I caught up with Octavio while he was cooking on a Friday night. He recalls and recounts, “I remember passing by the Simon Bolivar statue and thinking 'why Is that here?' I remembered Simon Bolivar from the money back in Ecuador, so it was just strange that this man from the money of my youth had a statue here in New Orleans. It made me love the city so much more.” But it's not just Miti Miti’s food, or the statue of a Latin American leader that connects us to the Gran Colombia region-it's also our street culture.

In 2016, I joined hundreds of New Orleanians as we took to the streets to celebrate the life of Prince, who had just passed away. It was a joyous celebration, as we all 2nd-lined through the streets of the city. About halfway through the procession, I realized I was marching next to Carlos Vives, who happened to be in town for Jazz Fest.

He had the biggest smile on his face as he looked at all the people dancing in the street. It reminded me of a song from one of his albums which is a great last sentence for this article: "La ciudad de Nueva Orleans se parece a Barranquilla!"



300 Years of New Orleans

300 Years of New Orleans

by Christopher Ard

Click aqui para español->300 años de Nueva Orleans

This year, the City of New Orleans is celebrating its 300th Anniversary.  In 1718, the French arrived to establish a city at the mouth of the greatest river in North America—the Mississippi River.  For nearly 44 years, they planned and settled New Orleans until 1762 when the French ceded Louisiana and the Isle of Orleans (the land between Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River, Lake Borgne, and LaPlace) to Spain. 

For the next 40 years, the City of New Orleans grew.  It was during this time that the original cathedral burned down along with most of the French Quarter.  Luckily, the Spanish rebuilt it along with most of the Vieux Carré that we know today, including the Cabildo, Madam John’s Legacy, Lafayette Square, and Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop.  So, although we call it the “French” Quarter, the architecture is mostly Spanish.  Louisiana and New Orleans were given back to the French in 1802, and finally sold via the Louisiana Purchase to the United States in 1803.

…and that’s just the first 100 years.

To most United States residents, New Orleans continues to be the most interesting city in the country. 

Tour guides explain that the constant changes between France, Spain, and the United States, created this unique culture of strange words, foods, music, and soul.  The New Orleans tricentennial website says, “[as] one of the world’s most unique and diverse cities, New Orleans will celebrate with our citizens and open our doors to the world to share our rich history and culture.”

Let me summarize this for everyone—we’re celebrating 300 years of Latino culture in New Orleans.

The story of New Orleans may be unique to Anglo-Saxon America, but for the rest of our side of the planet, the city’s story mimics those of Havana, Barranquilla, Cali, Santo Domingo, Guatemala, Managua, Veracruz, and many others.  New Orleans is the northern most Caribbean city in the United States.  Our history is part of the Caribbean’s history, from hurricanes to humidity, from carnival to Catholicism, and from sugar to slavery.  This celebration is a celebration of who we are as Latinos.

This brings me to the point of this article—what is a New Orleans Latino?  Many of us can trace our roots back much further than 300 years.  We come from the Taíno, the Maya, the Inca, and the Wayuu.  Many of us are part slave and part slave-owner.  We speak Spanish AND English, or French, or Creole.  Most of us eat tamales, albeit sometimes in a banana leaf, or sometimes in a corn husk.  Our history tells a story of how far we, as a city and a people, have come; however, it does not dictate what we may become tomorrow.  As Latinos, we live in a world that is neither here nor there when it comes to international borders.  We cross all sorts of boundaries—boundaries established by Anglo-Saxon America.  And that’s what the 300th birthday of New Orleans is all about—it’s about being different, about standing out.

This year, as you participate in the many events celebrating 300 years of New Orleans, remember that the events of 1718 did more than create a city at the mouth of the Mississippi River.  They added to a story already being told—the Latino Story.  The story of La Raza.

Brown Like Me

Brown Like Me

By Christopher Ard

Click para español - Marrón, como yo.

If you spoke with me on the phone, you’d have no idea I was half-Mexican. However, because of genetic luck, many people who see me on the street greet me with “What’s up, mi amigo!” I like to tell people I got the brown gene in my family. You can see it in my eyes, my hair, and my skin tone-- but mostly in the summer. 

There was another famous New Orleans resident whose brown gene made him famous. Benito Juárez was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 1806. Having Zapotec heritage, he became a hero of Mexico for separating the church and state, and for his native American heritage. In the mid-1850’s, Benito was exiled for his liberal views and like most other liberals lost in the world, ended up in New Orleans--twice. 

The story has it that Benito lived in New Orleans for about three years. Although he was a lawyer in Mexico, Benito’s life was anything but luxurious here in New Orleans. At one point he rolled cigars on St. Peter Street in the Quarter. 

He lived a life of poverty in New Orleans until he returned to Mexico to kick out the foreign rulers and transform his country into a modern nation. Many believe that it was his time here in New Orleans that influenced his thoughts on inequality and race. 

53 years ago, from April 22nd to the 29th, New Orleans celebrated “Mexico Week” as the city prepared to dedicate a statue of Benito Juárez on Basin Street. The city welcomed a delegation of 100 representatives from Mexico to help throw the party. To thank New Orleans for the hospitality shown to their hero, Mexico commissioned an artist to create an enormous statue of Juárez which today still stands on Basin and St. Louis Streets-- known as the Garden of the Americas. 

During the dedication of the statue, former Mexican Ambassador to the United States, Hugo B. Margain, said this, “Juárez is here, not as a mere gift from one nation to another, but as a reminder to young and old, that the humblest of origins is no impediment to greatness; that poverty of worldly goods can be overcome by spiritual wealth.” 

That brings me back to the beginning of this story-- My brown gene. I have my mother to thank for my indigenous looks. She was the first of her family born in New Orleans--Charity Hospital to be exact. 

My grandfather named her Tomasa, after his own mother who was back in Nuevo León, Mexico, not knowing the impact her name and skin tone would have on a little girl in a seemingly Mexican- less New Orleans. 

My own name is English because my father wouldn’t allow a Mexican name on his children. It was the 1970s after all. 

Last month, for Semana Santa, I took my mother on her first trip to Mexico City and Guanajuato, Mexico. I couldn’t wait to see how she would handle walking around in a land where her face and name aren’t foreign. In Mexico, there is a word which means “disasterous, worst- ever, unimaginable, or chaotic”. The word is “desmadre” --which literally means without mother. My mom taught me to ignore the name calling and to be proud of being Mexican while at the same time identifying with what I was experiencing. 

One of the stops on our trip was to a statue in Guanajuato dedicated to another Mexican hero-El Pípila. And just to tie this story together, New Orleans? statue of Benito Juárez and Guanajuato’s statue of El Pípila were both created by the same artist--Juan Fernando Olaguibel. 

So, the next time you’re driving down Basin Street, look up at the statue of Benito Juárez—Native American President of Mexico--and remember that he was just a poor “brown kid” from a small town in Mexico--but that didn’t stop him from getting a statue on Basin Street, and from liberating a nation.

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Publisher's Note

As the holiday season approaches the first thing on my mind is "I can't believe the year is almost over!"

Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to count the many reasons why we should be grateful, so I take this opportunity to thank first, our readers and supporters. We are still a young project and it is very rewarding to hear your comments and to receive words of encouragement. I feel very grateful and flattered every time someone says they love what we are doing.

 I'm thankful to be doing something I enjoy, to get to know amazing people in our community, and to continue to learn new things everyday.

To our writers, editors, and contributors, I am honored you believed in VIVA NOLA since its birth and that you have stood by it, continuously sharing your talent, knowledge and skills with us and our audience.

We are growing stronger with the support from our advertisers that make this project possible. To all of you who have chosen to reach our audience and to entrust us with the responsibly of bringing your message across to potential customers, we are grateful and honored to partner with you.

I hope you all have a very special Thanksgiving celebration! Remember to remain calm and sane through the busy holiday season coming ahead.