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Our present history: The Honduran community in New Orleans

A poster for the Standard Fruit Company. Photo by Bjorn Larsson.

New Orleans is home to the single largest Honduran population within America. The connection between New Orleans and Honduras began over a century ago, primarily due to both regions’ shipping industries. Many Hondurans came to the United States as employees of either the Standard Fruit Company or the United Fruit Company, both of which imported bananas and other fruits into the United States through the Port of New Orleans. This economic relationship forged the beginnings of a strong social, cultural and political connection that still exists between Honduras and the United States. (1)

Self-identified Hondurans actually make up up the largest Spanish-speaking cultural group  in New Orleans (2). However, the Honduran cultural presence within the city is not nearly as well known as some of its counterparts. Despite their large numbers, the Honduran immigrants to New Orleans did not develop a distinct neighborhood like other cultures in New Orleans have done, and according to Folklife in Louisiana, there is a feeling among the Latino community that Latin nationalities within New Orleans tend to blend together (3). Nevertheless, the Honduran community still maintains strong connections to their cultural heritage, even while many self-identify primarily as New Orleanians. The Honduran community within New Orleans has maintained linguistic, culinary, and cultural traditions that have helped shape a distinct Honduran identity within the city.

Places like  Casa Honduras, preserve and share Honduran cuisine to mainstream culture and serve as a sort of community hub, turning into a club at nights and making space available for community meetings. On top of that, families continue to pass down traditional recipes like baleadas, Sopa de Pescado, and Honduran-style tacos, enchiladas, tamales, and carne asada (4). That food is good for the soul, and to keep their souls even further connected to culture, the Honduran community has established religious roots here in New Orleans.

The majority of Hondurans in the city are Catholic, though there are a number of Evangelical Protestants as well, and several churches, especially St. Teresa of Avila on Prytania Street, have been serving the Honduran community for generations. St. Teresa even features a statue of Our Lady of Suyapa, the patron saint of Honduras. And New Orleans wouldn't be New Orleans without a party around a said, and one of the most prominent Honduran celebrations within New Orleans is the Feast and Mass of Our Lady of Suyapa, which is celebrated on the third of every February. Both St. Teresa of Avila and Immaculate Conception Church in Marrero hold feasts for the celebration; at the latter, children wear traditional Honduran dress as part of the celebration and the Honduran national anthem is sung during Mass (5).

In addition to these more formal manifestations of community culture, Hondurans in New Orleans celebrate their culture in a myriad of other ways. For example, on Sundays, there is an adult soccer league, Villa d’Est, that gathers at City Park. The league serves both as a link to a sport that is quite popular in Honduras as well as a positive gathering space for Hondurans (6).

Now let's get even smaller in scope to look at the Garifuna Community, which is an Afro-Central American ethnic group who originated in St. Vincent. There is debate as to how the group made it to the Americas; nevertheless, by the late 18th century there was a small group of the Garifuna community in Roatan, Honduras (possibly banished there by the British) (7). The Garifuna culture quickly came to combine a mixture of African and Honduran cultural, linguistic, and religious traditions and practices.

In New Orleans, the Garifuna are largely known for their language, dance and music. The Garifuna musical tradition draws widely upon their West African tradition, utilizing distinctive percussive stylings and a traditional call-and-response pattern (8). Though a relatively small population, there is an active effort to maintain these cultural traditions. Bernardo Guerrero, vice president of the community agribusiness Lemenigi Lomba, is an active advocate for the preservation of the Garifuna language. Guerrero is also involved in Hamenigi Garinagu, a dance group that performs traditional Garifuna dances for special events. Anrulfo Lacayo, another advocate for Garifuna culture, speaks of the importance of maintaining traditions, saying, “From where we came, there we go” (9).

Like all New Orleanians, the Hondurans of the city were greatly affected by Hurricane Katrina. Though there is little data about how it impacted the community in terms of population density, anecdotal data suggests that many Hondurans left the city and were never able to return (10). Conversely, the destruction caused by the hurricane lead to an influx of Latino day laborers, including many coming from Honduras. With the workers came a new emphasis on Honduran culture, which lead to the establishment of restaurants and shops (including the aforementioned Casa Honduras). This influx of workers differs from that of previous generations in that the workers were bringing their families with them (unlike many of those who worked for the fruit companies, who would often leave their families in Honduras while they moved to New Orleans) (11). This shift has helped create more of a family atmosphere for the Honduran community living in New Orleans.

Nevertheless, Hondurans and Garifunas living in New Orleans continue to face certain challenges. There is some degree of racial discrimination between the two, both in New Orleans and in Honduras. Though the Honduran Consulate is located in New Orleans, it is largely inaccessible to a big proportion of the Honduran population who live outside of the city proper. This means that many local residents do not have access to the information and necessary services that they need from the government, such as help getting visas and resources to get children into schools (12).

With more understanding about the Honduran culture and all it adds to New Orleans, we are happy they call this city home.

 

 

1 (“Honduran Identity within South Louisiana Culture.” Folklife in Louisiana. Accessed April 17, 2014. http://www.louisianafolklife.org/LT/Articles_Essays/Hondurans1.html).

2 (Eraque, Samantha. ““Honduran Memories”: Identity, Race, Place, and Memory in New Orleans, Louisiana.” Master’s thesis, Louisiana State University, 2004. Accessed April 15, 2014. http://etd.lsu.edu/docs/available/etd-04152004-123822/unrestricted/Euraque_thesis.pdf).

3. (“Honduran Identity within South Louisiana Culture.” Folklife in Louisiana. Accessed April 17, 2014. http://www.louisianafolklife.org/LT/Articles_Essays/Hondurans1.html)

4. (“Honduran Identity within South Louisiana Culture.” Folklife in Louisiana. Accessed April 17, 2014. http://www.louisianafolklife.org/LT/Articles_Essays/Hondurans1.html)

5. (“Honduran Identity within South Louisiana Culture.” Folklife in Louisiana. Accessed April 17, 2014. http://www.louisianafolklife.org/LT/Articles_Essays/Hondurans1.html).

6. (Rosales-Fajardo, Cristi. “Honduran and Garifuna Communities.” Interview by author. April 16, 2014).

7. (“Meet Your Spanish-Speaking New Orleans Cousins.” Xavier University of Louisiana. Accessed April 23, 2014. http://www.xula.edu/languages/spanishspeaking.php). 

8. (“From Punta to Chumba: Garifuna Music and Dance in New Orleans.” Folklife in Louisiana. Accessed April 23, 2014. http://www.louisianafolklife.org/LT/Articles_Essays/garifuna.html)

9. (“Hondurans in New Orleans Celebrate Garifuna Heritage.” NOLA.com. May 4, 2011. Accessed April 23, 2014. http://www.nola.com/nolavie/index.ssf/2011/05/hondurans_in_new_orleans_celeb.html)

10. (“Honduran Identity within South Louisiana Culture.” Folklife in Louisiana. Accessed April 17, 2014. http://www.louisianafolklife.org/LT/Articles_Essays/Hondurans1.html)

11. (Rosales-Fajardo, Cristi. “Honduran and Garifuna Communities.” Interview by author. April 16, 2014)

12. (Rosales-Fajardo, Cristi. “Honduran and Garifuna Communities.” Interview by author. April 16, 2014

 

Originally published on MediaNola on April 17, 2014. 

Kelley Crawford is a professor, writer, mentor, dancer, and constant questioner. If you would like to contact Kelley Crawford, you can email her at kelley@nolavie.com.