Hugo Montero, an artist and restaurant owner from Mexico City, has lived in New Orleans for 27 years. He opened Casa Borrega on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard with his wife, Linda Stone, last year.
"I can see a few negative things, but living here in New Orleans for more than 20 years, I have been accepting change. I think change is good. New Orleans doesn't really accept change, but the New Orleans that does not accept change is the New Orleans that is related to Louisiana.
"I don't celebrate much Louisiana culture. I celebrate New Orleans culture. It's a big difference for me. You can see it politically, socially, the big differences between New Orleans and Louisiana. It's like the difference between Texas and Austin. But I think it's even more marked in New Orleans. Like the big difference that we have with Calcasieu Parish, for example. And I say Calcasieu because when I was a teacher I went to a meeting there and, you know, I had an experience there of discrimination, racism, really short minds there.
"I don't want to call transplants the 'newcomers.' It's like when people (say) 'illegal aliens,' you know stereotyping, labels and definitions about people. But I think that the newcomers are a symptomatic, good thing to the new New Orleans. The people are progressive, they're young professionals, they're rebuilding, they have been contributing to the economy of New Orleans. They contribute to the social and cultural environment that we have.
"I have been in this area, in and out. ... I had a studio here for a long time, in 1989, across the street. I live in the Quarter. And I always knew that the area was amazing. Historically, the architecture, the closeness to the business district, the French Quarter, the Garden District, Mid-City, Uptown. That's why it's called Central City. The area is becoming a small boom. ... My whole block is gentrified, I have to hate that word, and that's the way it is. My whole block is gentrified right now. Very progressive people, Caucasian ... have been buying the buildings across, between Rampart and O.C. Haley and I feel that Casa Borrega has been contributing because of the fact that we open at night. We have music and dinner.
"As a minority, it's a very delicate situation. I don't agree with people being displaced from their heritage. That's a very hard thing. That happened in [Los Angeles] when somebody built a stadium for the Dodgers in an Hispanic area in L.A. ... I feel bad about it, but at the same time, we can't stop change. ... Things change. Neighborhoods change.
"These people come from New York or they come from San Francisco or they come from other affluent places and they buy land in New Orleans because they think it's inexpensive. We can't stop that. And I try to see it, as a business owner, as positive.
"Latino immigrants rebuilt New Orleans. They get paid, but they rebuilt New Orleans. And that's another amazing and dramatic change that I see. Being in New Orleans a long time, (I used to be) perceived as exotic. New Orleans didn't have many Latinos. ... The flux of immigrants that we had after Katrina ... decided to stay. It's just an amazing and dramatic change.
Now as a restaurant owner I can tell you that 90 percent of New Orleans restaurants, in the back of the house, meaning in the kitchen, have Latino workers. And traditionally, these workers, they were African-American; now they are Latinos. ... You can see that, just go to Hong Kong Market on the West Bank, to some of the Vietnamese, Chinese restaurants, inside the kitchen, everyone is Latino. It's just an amazing change. They are making money and they are betting to stay and make a better life for themselves. ... We, as Latinos, are family-oriented. We are hard-working. We like to make a better place for us, for our families, to live. And even with all this happening with a language barrier, a cultural barrier, these are changing. ... So many restaurants open and give work to Latinos. ... The sense of community is just amazing. Being in New Orleans for such a long time, I never saw that sense of community that is happening now. People really care. Or seem to care. People are really engaged with nonprofits and harvestings, locavores. ...
"My son, he was born and raised here, and he will tell you he's from New Orleans, he's a New Orleanian. But sometimes he will have doubts about his identity as Latino and a New Orleanian. These newcomers, they don't have any doubts. 'I'm a New Orleanian,' they say, and that's very positive." — As told to Jeanie Riess
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And if you'd like to tell your story, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll definitely do a Part 3.