new orleans,la:katrina brings wave of hispanics

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new orleans,la:katrina brings wave of hispanics

Unread post by Qdawg » July 5th, 2007, 4:20 pm

Katrina Brought a Wave of Hispanics
Jul 2, 2007

NEW ORLEANS - 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.

The trucks are a common sight in barrios from Los Angeles to New York, but controversial in a city still adapting to a threefold increase in Hispanics since Katrina.

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.

The mobile luncheonettes are operated mostly by Mexican and Central American families.

"I'm looking for an opportunity. That's why I left my country, and that's what led me here," said Maria Fuentes, 55, who came to the United States from Mexico a decade ago and settled in New Orleans after the storm. "This is the first time I've owned my own business and my dream is to have traditional restaurants, not trucks, all over this town."

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.

"It's better than Taco Bell. I can tell you that," said Michael Gould, 53, who lined up at Fuentes' truck during a recent lunch hour.

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

"We've been trying to handle blighted housing, FEMA trailers, abandoned housing," said Louis Congemi, whose zoning ordinance takes effect this weekend and is expected to clear the parish of taco trucks. "This is just one more thing we're trying to get under control to make sure we bring our parish back to normalcy."

Congemi added: "You have to be concerned about the cleanliness of these vehicles."

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

"They're up to speed with their licensing," department spokesman Bob Johannessen said. "We haven't received any sort of complaint about food quality, anything that would indicate a public health concern."

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.

Nevertheless, "I'm more than sure it is welcome in the city," said David Robinson-Morris, a spokesman for Mayor Ray Nagin. "It is providing a service, and it is a part of our sales tax revenue."

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.

Fuentes operates her truck with daughters Karina, 31, Carolina, 20, and business partner Pedro Reyes, 57. They said they rise every morning at 4 a.m. for prep work, then set up shop at the corner of Canal and Robert E. Lee boulevards by 8 a.m.

Their workday ends at 6 p.m., after they have cleaned up the mobile kitchen for the next day.

It took $52,000 in savings to start the business, including $25,000 for the used van. Fuentes said the start-up costs have recently been paid off, and now the family is saving for their first restaurant without wheels.

"That's what they call the American Dream, isn't it?" she said. "I really like the people here in New Orleans and we want to live here and have our business here." ... anics.html

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Unread post by Anesis » July 6th, 2007, 2:04 pm

I find it interesting that the article fails to mention the exploitation of the migrant workers.
U.S. Labor Department Ignored Rampant Worker Abuses in Post-Katrina New Orleans

Testimony of Jennifer J. Rosenbaum

June 26, 2007 – Migrant workers who flocked to New Orleans to rebuild the city after Hurricane Katrina were routinely cheated out of wages and faced other abuses while the U.S. Department of Labor made little effort to police the contractors employing them, a Southern Poverty Law Center attorney told a House subcommittee today.

The SPLC, which has spoken with more than 1,000 Gulf Coast workers as part of its outreach, advocacy and litigation, found that the majority did not receive overtime pay, despite the fact that many worked 80 to 100 hours per week. Many said they were sometimes not paid at all.

Workers who complained about wage theft and other abuses faced termination, threats of deportation and even physical assault, SPLC attorney Jennifer J. Rosenbaum told the House Subcommittee on Domestic Policy.

"The Department of Labor's response was shockingly inadequate given the extreme exploitation of migrant workers that occurred during the reconstruction of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast," Rosenbaum said. "Many migrant workers remain unpaid or underpaid for their work cleaning up the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina."
Rosenbaum said the DOL:

* failed to adequately staff its New Orleans office, despite billions in federal dollars awarded to contractors;
* failed to make staffers available to speak with workers during nights and weekends;
* failed to communicate with workers in their native language;
* dismissed many complaints after little more than a cursory telephone interview, and frequently did not even record them;
* focused on easy cases involving small groups of workers rather than investigating systemic problems involving large contractors and multiple layers of subcontractors;
* failed to protect workers from employer retaliation for wage complaints;
* failed to obtain adequate settlements on behalf of workers; and,
* failed to ensure that damage awards reached workers.

A recent report by Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), titled "Working on Faith: A Faithful Response to Worker Abuse in New Orleans," found that workers did not know about the DOL and did not view it as responsible for investigating unpaid minimum wage and overtime. "When we surveyed 218 immigrant and U.S.-born workers, not one knew that they could go to the U.S. Department of Labor for help," said Ted Smukler, director of public policy for IWJ.

The IWJ report revealed that the New Orleans DOL wage-and-hour division gained only two part-time investigators, who were rotated from other offices. The New Orleans DOL office initiated only 57 wage-and-hour investigations in the year following Hurricane Katrina – a 37 percent decrease from the year preceding the hurricane.

"The federal government utterly failed these workers by not enforcing our nation's wage laws," said Catherine K. Ruckelshaus, litigation director for the National Employment Law Project. "But the problems of New Orleans are only a microcosm of the Labor Department’s inability to protect the wage floor. We commend Rep. [Dennis] Kucinich and his committee for this investigation."

The SPLC has filed three major lawsuits to help hundreds of foreign and domestic workers recover unpaid wages. Two of those cases, against major cleanup and reconstruction contractors, have resulted in settlements totaling about $900,000 that will be distributed to workers.

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Re: new orleans,la:katrina brings wave of hispanics

Unread post by thebasher » October 12th, 2008, 10:50 pm

yea huh

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