May 5, 2010
It’s Cinco de Mayo in New Orleans! Like any other holiday, legit or made up for the sake of another party, there will probably be some sort of parade, block party, or general celebration in the streets. However, it is unclear how many actual Mexican-Americans will participate in these events. I suspect not too many. It will probably be a bunch of VISTAs, other young people and old people who are “living young” out drinking margaritas and eating enchiladas. One fellow vista member has already advertised that he will be in attendance at a Cinco de Mayo festival with Ecuadorian pants and a mustache… surely a site to be seen. Other than those folks, I wonder if and where Mexican-Americans will be celebrating this holiday.
Past latino festivals that I have attended in New Orleans have not had great turnout and I am not sure quite why this is. I have tabled at a few of these events to advertise for our ESL classes, and it has not been the best venue for getting in contact with immigrants in the New Orleans community.
I have noticed while testing some students, that when we get to questions about partying and festivals (such as what is your favorite holiday) many say that they do not celebrate much here in New Orleans. I asked several students about Mardi Gras, and many said that they would not attend any parades. A few said that they couldn’t get to the parades, or preferred not to deal with the crowds. One girl mentioned that she would like to go but that her husband would not let her. Just yesterday I spoke to a man who said he does not celebrate his birthday in the US because he doesn’t have anyone to celebrate with, because his family and friends are all back in Honduras. Others say they usually have to work during festivals. The obstacles that get in the way of many immigrants ability to party New Orleans style, shows a great difference in the lifestyles of natives versus immigrants in the United States. It is not necessarily the case that people do not want to celebrate or have a good time- as fun is pretty much universal- but that they may not have the time or the ability. They may be working, or trying to navigate the city and accomplish important everyday tasks that we take for granted. Some immigrants feel timid about going out because of their limited language ability, or even fear of police. Some stay at home because they have kids to take of, or are exhausted from a 10 hour day of work. There are many obstacles that prevent immigrants from taking part in New Orleans celebrations, and it is reflective of the many obstacles that they face in their everyday lives- riding the bus, going to the grocery store, visiting the doctors, etc. Not speaking the language fluently, knowing the way around, nor having the resources to complete these tasks can put a strong limit on your everyday life. In perspective, it’s no wonder partying isn’t a primary concern.
With the immigration bills that have passed in Arizona, and the ones that had been on the table in Louisiana, I worry that it will be difficult to make progressive changes that will better the lives of immigrants in New Orleans the greater United States. I just hope that agencies like the Hispanic Apostolate and Puentes help to send the message that we as a community support all those that live here. I also hope that those out celebrating Cinco de Mayo tonight don’t just think of the holiday as an excuse to enjoy margaritas and piñatas – but also consider what it means to be Mexican in America, or Honduran, or Chinese, Russian, Haitian, for that matter. After all, Cinco de Mayo came out of the era of the Civil Rights Movement (it is not the Mexican Day of Independence as it is misconceived) and its goal was originally to foster goodwill between nations and cultures. So this year, Cinco de Mayo should be a reminder, and a time for reflection in the United States. -Kate Harding, AmeriCorps VISTA
To learn more about Kate’s work with Hispanic Apostolate, visit their website at: http://haesl.blogspot.com.