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.