The overlooked history of Hispanic and Latinx contributions to New Orleans

Louisiana does not have the most obvious ties to Latinx cultures, but its largest city, New Orleans, could not be what it is today without the influence of the Latinx individuals who have lived here.

Though the construction of New Orleans began under French rule in the early 1700s, France was forced to hand over Louisiana territory to Spain as a result of the Seven Years’ War. Consequently, Louisiana existed as a Spanish colony from 1763 to 1800. The remnants of this can be seen in New Orleans architecture through the use of stucco — especially in the world renowned “French” Quarter.

Latinx influence waned after the French reacquired Louisiana in 1800 and the United States’ Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Following this, the majority of New Orleans’ inhabitants consisted of its remaining French population, English colonists and enslaved individuals. Most of the enslaved were of African descent, though there were a few shipments from the Caribbean, introducing Afro-Latinx slaves to New Orleans. Afro-Latinx slaves often go unrecognized in our accounts of slavery, but New Orleans could not have prospered economically without slavery.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, Latinx influence increased once more in the city during an extreme time of need. Latin America immigration, specifically from Central American countries like Honduras and Guatemala, sharply rose in the wake of the storm as people entered the United States, searching for better opportunities. Employment eligibility verification was suspended at this time, allowing undocumented individuals in the tens of thousands to find work rebuilding the city. Latinxs, many not even official citizens, aided in reconstructing New Orleans from the ground up — something that the United States government struggled to adequately do. New Orleans would not have recovered nearly as quickly without Hispanic community.

As a result, Latinx businesses grew 47 percent from 2002-07, and the New Orleans Hispanic population increased 57 percent from 2000-10. New Orleans is known for its constantly blossoming culture, and Latinxs are again becoming a huge contributor to its development. Arguably, they have had a great hand in it since its beginnings.