Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

Field Report: Puentes New Orleans

For me, moving to New Orleans was not just about completing a VISTA year of service.   My mother is from here and I have relatives who still live in the city.  As a child I would go on summer trips to New Orleans, and even at 8 or 10 years old I could note the distinct culture of the city compared to my native California.  Recalling these fond memories, I wanted to move here to get to know this side of my family better, and to see what it’s like to live here.  Paired with the unique perspective of working with a young local non-profit, it has been fascinating to learn about where my family comes from, and to experience the city as an adult.  
 
A couple weeks ago, I got a small taste of a long-ago piece of my family’s history at the Fiesta de los Isleños.  My grandfather’s ancestors, along with many other Canary-Islanders, were paid by the Spanish government to move from the Spanish islands to “settle” Louisiana in the 1700’s.  I went to the festival hoping to learn about this side of my family’s background.  I arrived at the Isleños festival, got some tasty Spanish food, and went to talk to the folks who had historical and genealogy information. A lady there showed me a copy of the ship register with my ancestor’s name on it!  He came with his brother and mother on the Trinidad ship in 1783.  The woman I talked to then led me across the festival and introduced me to my “cousin”, a man in his seventies that she pulled from behind one of the food booths, where he had been shucking oysters. 

We talked briefly and he said he descended from the same person my mom had told me- Francisco Zerpa.  During the rest of the day, I spoke to someone who knew my grandfather and had a mural of his in her office, looked at a display of pirogues labeled with my New Orleans family’s name (another distant cousin?), and talked to a woman about hunting alligators with her husband.  From discovering a my family’s coming-over-on-a-boat-to-St.-Bernard story, to making plans to visit my grandfather’s mural in a French Quarter office, the day left me feeling connected to the region in new ways.  Working with Puentes and being a part of the long term plans they have makes me feel excited and invested in the region’s future, but my experience with the Isleños allowed me to see myself in the regions history as well.  -Christina Decker, AmeriCorps VISTA

To learn more about Puentes New Orleans, visit their website at: http://www.puentesno.org/


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Notes from the field from the AmeriCorps VISTA team at Tulane University.

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