Stroll down any New Orleans street, observe the architecture, listen to the music, smell the thick aroma of the food and coffee, and you will find that there is no denying that New Orleans is a multicultural city. A milieu of fragrance, taste, music, language, and lifestyle, it is one of America’s true melting pots.
There are the earlier influences of the Spanish, French, and African. There is the presence of Cajun culture and Irish traditions. Most recently there has been growth in Southeast Asian, Pacific Islander, Central and South American, as well as Middle Eastern communities. All brought new languages, food, traditions, and diversity to our city.
While New Orleans (like so many other American Cities) does not always succeed in accepting what is unfamiliar, there are moments when we embrace difference with fervor.
That’s exactly what I experienced this week at the Defend DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Rally at Duncan Park.
I had arrived early, my only company a few dedicated demonstrators and the organizers of the event. All were huddled together, markers in hand, writing out slogans in bright bold lettering. From my spot on the grass I watched the crowd grow, then swell. In less than an hour several hundred people had gathered across the street from City Hall.
The speeches began, given first in Spanish and then in English. I scanned the crowd, then traversed the space a few times. I was struck by the faces around me: I had expected mostly people of color. I had expected mostly members of a younger generation.
Crowded into Duncan Park were young and old. There were seasoned activists and those just beginning to beat their political drums. There were children, some clinging to their mothers’ hands, others running freely through the crowd. I saw individuals of African decent, families from Central and South America, young men from Mexico, women in hijabs, white Americans, New Orleans natives, and transplants. It was poignant to see so many from divergent backgrounds, holding hands in support of a particular cause.
That message of unity was the thread sewn through every aspect of the event. What I took away was less about politics than about diversity and a shared sense of humanity.
“Immigrant issues are American issues,” Mary Mora of Nuestra Voz, a parent advocacy and education start–up, told the crowd.
“I didn’t grow up thinking of myself as undocumented,” said dreamer Karla Rosas, a graduate of Loyola University and graduate student at Tulane. “I felt like a regular part of the community. I grew up here in Louisiana. I don’t know going forward what my life is going to be like, but it feels really nice that y’all are here.”
“I am an immigrant myself,” added a young Belizean woman named Raquel, who is not a DACA enrollee but moved to this country 16 years ago and now calls New Orleans home. “I have been in this country for half of my life and most of adult life has been here in New Orleans. It is the place that I choose.”
Is that not true for us all? No matter where we are from, New Orleans is the place we chose. It is our home. It is where we feel we belong.
So I stood in Duncan Park on a weekday afternoon and watched all of these individuals of different generations, sizes, colors, and backgrounds hug one another goodbye. They smiled, shook hands, and gave thanks for a sense of community.
New Orleans is a city of diversity. It is expressed in our cuisine, through our architecture, with language, in the mélange of individuals who choose to call it home. And most importantly in how we demonstrate support for one another. Embracing our differences makes us thrive. Because, as one speaker so aptly put it, we all have the same dreams and aspirations.
Lillian Alford Patterson is a New Orleans writer by way of Mississippi. She holds a Bachelors of Art in Literature and Writing from Bard College and a Masters of Fine Art in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin. An excerpt from her nonfiction narrative All of the Houses I Have Lived In is to be published in an Irish anthology entitled The Broken Spiral. She is currently working on a novel about post-Katrina New Orleans. You can contact her at email@example.com.