Hugo Montero was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico, but he has made New Orleans his home for over twenty-five years.
“I don’t belong to New Orleans and I don’t belong to Mexico anymore. It is very strange,” he posits.
In 2013, Hugo and his wife opened the restaurant Casa Borrega, a Mexican Restaurant located in the heart of Central City. The couple bought the Greek Revival house in 2008 and have since renovated the house to create the beautifully ornate restaurant with a large seating area, stage, bar, and backyard patio.
In explaining the décor of Casa Borrega, Montero claims, “Mexican culture is a little bit kitschy, you know, we are a very, very colorful culture.”
With Day of the Dead altars, colorful tributes to Mexico, and a bar stocked with various types of Tequilas and Mezcales, Montero describes the design of the restaurant as “like a marriage of the vernacular culture of New Orleans with Mexico.”
Montero explains the post-Katrina demographics shift in New Orleans, which saw the arrival of tens of thousands of Latino workers. Discussing the pre-Katrina Latino population, Montero said, “they [Hondurans] came here with United Fruit, you know in the 60’s, late 50’s. Many Cubans, many Marielitos, came in the 70’s; some Colombians came in the 80’s. Mexicans, they never came here for many reasons.” But after Katrina, Montero describes the day labor population that would arrive at Lee Circle. “50,000 Latinos looking for jobs. Surreal,” he illustrates the diversity of this new influx by listing the countries of origin of his staff: Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
Whether it is sitting on a panel at Jazz Fest, mixing drinks in his bar, participating in immigrant rights marches, or playing his own music, Montero remains active within the New Orleans community.
Casa Borrega creates a platform for his interests in reproducing Mexican culture in the Crescent City and also creates a space in which other Latinos can share their culture. Casa Borrega brings in Latin Jazz musicians, presents Tuesday salsa nights, and hosts community events for the Latin American community. This interview is a testament of Montero and Casa Borrega’s commitment in sharing Latin culture to the larger community of New Orleans.
[Editor’s Note: This interview is a part of the New Orleans Latin American Heritage (NOLAH) Project.]
This post was originally written for MediaNola on September 10, 2014.