Katrina Brought A Wave Of Hispanics

John Moreno Gonzales, AP, July 2, 2007

For proof that Hurricane Katrina is transforming the ethnic flavor of New Orleans—and creating altogether new tensions—look no further than the taco trucks.

Lunch trucks serving Latin American fare are appearing around New Orleans, catering to the immigrant laborers who streamed into the city in search of work after Katrina turned much of the place into a construction zone.

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Officials in suburban Jefferson Parish recently banned the trucks as eyesores and health hazards. New Orleans officials said they welcome the new business, but promised to make sure the number of vehicles does not exceed the municipal limit.

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The six-wheel vans have Spanish names emblazoned on their sides like “La Texanita” and “Taqueria Buen Gusto,” and, like street vendors in Latin America, serve such dishes as carne asada, or grilled steak, pork and chicken, garnished with sliced radishes and diced cilantro.

Beverages include tamarind- and guava-flavored drinks, often in the old-time bottles that require an opener, just as in Latin America.

The trucks usually park on street corners in areas with heavy construction activity, attracting laborers and native New Orleanians alike.

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Still, the Jefferson Parish councilman who restricted the trucks characterized them as unwanted residue from the hurricane.

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Louisiana state records show licenses for about 40 taco trucks in Jefferson and Orleans parishes. They are inspected annually, like all street vendors.

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New Orleans officials said that because of the Jefferson Parish ban, they will watch the number of trucks that move to their city and will enforce rules limiting the number of food vehicles to 100 on non-festival days.

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New Orleans has seen its Hispanic population rise from 15,000 before the storm to an estimated 50,000 now, according to the city. The city’s overall population has dropped from about 450,000 before the storm to about 250,000 now.

In the months after Katrina, the mayor created a furor when he was quoted as saying: “Businesses are concerned with making sure we are not overrun by Mexican workers.” In his subsequent re-election campaign, however, he praised Hispanics for their work ethic.

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