Nationalities of the Big Easy

“Why you could feed all the pure white and pure blacks in Louisiana with a cup of beans and half a cup of rice.”
—Huey Long

“Little noticed by most, however, is that, beginning with the French culture as acted upon by the African, Antillean, German, Spanish. Irish, Italian, and, of course, “American,” New Orleans has created a civic culture which resembles a separate ethnicity. This process, which I have called “creolization,” has left its mark on almost every modern New Orleanian leaving him with differences in custom, outlook, and values from the rest of the United States, and resulting in the powerful resistance of the New Orleanian to leaving his town, even though he might better himself in so doing. I see this early in my college students. I know that it is the reason for my remaining here myself. Some call it provincial; some say it is bad or silly not to try to be like Houston or Chicago, but the ethnicity of the New Orleanian, his Creole-hood, in the broader sense, is a real and powerful fact."
—Dr. George F. Reinecke

“New Orleans is unlike any city in America. Its cultural diversity is woven into the food, the music, the architecture—even the local superstitions. It’s a sensory experience on all levels and there’s a story lurking around every corner.”
—Ruta Sepetys

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New Orleans is best known for its African, French, and Spanish heritage, but the city is home to many more nationalities than these. New Orleans is a true melting pot, and its unique history as a subject to three separate countries and its profusion of immigrants has given rise to a cultural identity unlike anywhere else in the United States. 21st century New Orleans may be home to the same John Does and Jane Smiths found in any American city, but these people are not the focus of stories told in the Big Easy—nor should ancilla PCs who witnessed much of the city’s cultural evolution firsthand ever describe their national origin as “generic white person.”

Century Immigrant Nationalities
Early 18th Canadian, French, German
Mid 18th Creole, Filipino, French
Late 18th Acadian, British, Creole, French, Greek, Irish, Spanish
Early 19th British, Creole, French, German, Irish, Jewish
Mid 19th Chinese, Creole, German, Greek, Irish, Italian, Jewish
Late 19th Albanian, Chinese, Filipino, Italian, Jewish, Lebanese, Middle Eastern, Yugoslav
Early 20th Albanian, Italian, Middle Eastern, Norwegian
Mid 20th Cuban, Dutch, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Latino, Middle Eastern
Late 20th British, Dutch, Irish, Norwegian, South Asian, Vietnamese
Early 21st African, British, French, Latino, Middle Eastern, South Asian

albanian_flag_by_mondig.jpg Albanian: Among the immigrants who came to New Orleans from Sicily during the late 19th and early 20th centuries were the Arbreshe of the village of Contessa Entellina. The Arbreshe, or Gheghi, were descended from Albanian refugees who had settled in Sicily during the 15th century. They were Byzantine Catholics and continued to speak a distinctive language. Prior to Katrina, New Orleans had the greatest concentration of Contessioti in the US. The well-known local Italian-American family of Schiro, for example, traces its roots to Contessa Entellina.


The Arbreshe (“Tarbreshe” includes a definite article) or Albano-Sicilians were Orthodox Christians who fled Ottoman persecution in the late Renaissance and left Albania for resettlement in a few towns of Sicily, where they retained their Albanian tongue (Gheg), beliefs, religious practices and culinary recipes. Many of them came to New Orleans with the other Sicilians in the later nineteenth century, especially from the town of Contessa Entellina. At first they kept at a certain distance from other Sicilian immigrants, and these last often referred to the Albanians as “Guegue” with a shade of dislike implied. With the disappearance in more recent times both of the Italian and Albanian tongues, and because the Uniate Greek rite was never established formally here, the distinction between these Arbreshe and the Italian Sicilians, never perceived too clearly by the rest of the population, is now losing significance to the younger Arbreshe themselves. Former Mayor Schiro is a descendant of these Albanians.

maxresdefault.jpg African: People of sub-Saharan African descent or partial African descent formed the largest element in the population of New Orleans during the colonial period, as they do today. In addition to the many who were transported here as slaves, a substantial number of free people of African descent arrived from France or from the Caribbean. Furthermore, under the colonial legal systems of the French and Spanish, slaves could be freed or obtain their freedom, while free people of all races could hold property, intermarry (or legitimize the offspring of more informal relationships), file lawsuits, and conduct business as they chose.

Even though the legal status of slaves and free blacks was less favorable after Louisiana became part of the US, the gens libres de couleur continued to do well through the 1840s. Quite a few were educated in France; many were successful as merchants and professionals; many others plied trades as craftspeople, shopkeepers, hairdressers, or free servants; some served as soldiers; and yet others became priests or nuns. The Francophone community, in particular, was characterized by racial and residential mixture, maintaining ties with their European-descended relatives. Freed and escaping slaves, primarily Anglophones, made their way from other parts of the country to the city. The substantial, confident population of free people of color was a distinctive and crucial aspect of New Orleans history and culture prior to the US Civil War.

A large slave market continued to operate in New Orleans, however, and slavery lasted up until 1863, particularly in rural areas. The 1850s saw a decline in both the status and numbers of free people of color, due to tensions leading up to the Civil War, which caused many to emigrate, and to severe yellow fever epidemics. The period of Reconstruction (1865-1877) was mixed in its impact on African-Americans in southeastern Louisiana, with opportunites for political participation and leadership on the one hand, but riots, massacres, and violent repression on the other. Along with the rest of the South, they suffered after the imposition of Jim Crow laws from 1890 through the period of segregation. (In the landmark 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case, in which the US Supreme Court justified segregation, the unsuccessful plaintiff, Homer—or Homère—Adolphe Plessy, was a racially mixed New Orleanian Creole.) Nevertheless, a tradition of political activism continued from the pre-Civil War days and manifested itself again during the Civil Rights movement and beyond.

People of African descent have made fundamental contributions to the culture of New Orleans throughout its history. The characteristic buildings and ironwork in historic districts of New Orleans, including the French Quarter, while exhibiting Spanish and other European influences, were to a considerable extent the work of craftsmen of color, slave and free. Musicians, poets, and artists of color also have flourished, as illustrated, for example, by the output of 19th-century French-language literary works, twentieth-century jazz, and a range of visual arts. New Orleans music, dance, religious life, and cuisine continue to reflect African roots.

Recent immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa include small communities of West African and Ethiopian origin. There is also a group of Haitian immigrants in New Orleans, who reinforce historical ties with Afro-Caribbean cultures, as well as maintaining a Francophone/Creole element into the 21st century.


Persons of black African descent have been in New Orleans, like the French, from the first day of the city’s existence. They descend, if their ancestors arrived early, from the people of Senegambia, the Windward Coast of West Africa, Benin, and from Angola, further south. The early distinctions carefully drawn between them soon became blurred and forgotten even by most of the blacks themselves. But there is one line of distinction among New Orleanians of African descent which has not been forgotten. This is the difference between French-aligned (or Creole) and “American” blacks.

Some of the first blacks came almost directly to Louisiana from Africa through the entrepot of Martinique. Others came from the French islands, especially Haiti, and were already American when they arrived in Louisiana. It was rather impractical to bring to an untamed colony in the midst of a great wilderness a group of recently enslaved Africans unable to communicate with their French masters. The creole blacks of the Antilles, already accustomed to their servitude and speaking Antillean “Creole,” seem to have bridged the gap. This form of French survives in New Orleans today; I am told Mayor Morial has some command of Creole.

Later, as the security of the colony grew, a greater number of African blacks were brought into the colony, whether legally or by “blackbirding” after the international slave trade was proscribed. Some of these were absorbed into the periphery of the Creole population, others into that of the newer English-speaking population. Other English-speaking blacks arrived when white settlers from the southeast or Kentucky brought their slaves to Louisiana to open up new farmland. Adding to this category were those who were “sold down the river” from the upper South with its depleted acreage of tobacco lands. Relatively few of these English-speaking blacks found their way to urban New Orleans, though a good number drifted to the city after the Civil War. In the mid-twentieth century poor living conditions in the adjacent Anglo-Saxon rural South, resulting as much from an agricultural revolution which tended to abolish the field-hand and sharecropper as from racial antipathies, sent thousands of the unemployed to New Orleans as well as the cities of the North.

Among the Creole black population, both through a two-century-long process within Louisiana and the Haitian migration previously mentioned, there grew up a large class of light-skinned “people of color,” usually free or emancipated, but not possessing until our own time (ex-cept during Reconstruction) all the civil rights of the Caucasian population. These “Freemen of Color” were especially numerous in New Orleans. Commonly, the French had been reluctant to enslave their own offspring, often bestowing on them their own names and seeing to their educa-tion, whether in a trade, or in the schools and universities of France. Free People of Color published poetry and drama, sculpted in wood, did splendid ornamental iron work, put out newspapers, and conducted large businesses, owning blocks of urban real estate and major plantations long before the Civil War. As early as 1815, battalions of these American citizens fought in the Battle of New Orleans. The more educated spoke standard French, as well as their own dialect, which, on the other hand, was readily spoken by most New Orleans Creole whites all through the nineteenth century. Though Creole blacks (they preferred to be called gens de couleur or “people of color”) practiced many occupations, especially those related to building, it was their skills at music and cookery which have proved the most significant. From the one has sprung the unique New Orleans Creole cuisine, and from the other, in large part, came New Orleans’ most exportable item, traditional jazz. The preference of the Spanish and southern French for highly seasoned foods helps explain the quality of New Orleans cooking, but at all times, the practitioners have been chiefly black Creoles. So, too, one can partially explain jazz by the facts that nineteenth-century whites trained people of color to play European instruments to provide music for white people’s dances, and that they tolerated the preservation of African dance rhythms by permitting public black dancing on Sundays, something generally proscribed in Protestant areas. Yet, again, the practitioners were at first exclusively blacks, both “American” and Creole. Many Creole musicians are to be counted among the jazz greats of the early and mid-twentieth century.

Members of the Creole black group retain their special identity today, even after two generations (as is sometimes the case) of residence in Los Angeles or Chicago. Characteristically the Creole blacks lived in the Treme neighborhood, the Faubourg Marigny, or the St. Bernard district, all below Canal Street, though many have now moved into the formerly white parts of “Downtown” and the new eastern suburbs. It was members of this group which practiced voodoo and produced the famous Laveau family. It was long usual for the black Creole to assert his superiority over “American” blacks, and to discourage fraternization and intermarriage, at least until after World War II.

Culturally the rest of the black population has been, it would seem, less subject to the phenomenon of creolization than other portions of the citizenry. Until the post-World War II period, their chief foci were grass-roots churches, small, usually Baptist, most of whose members occupied very low rungs on the economic ladder. Yet self-help was to combine with Northern missionary zeal in the post-Civil War era to found three institutions of higher learning whose graduates provided the growing number of professionals, teachers, civil service people and clergymen. This class of graduates eventually took the chief role in bringing about the dramatic social changes of modern times, along with such Creole leaders as Plessy and A.P. Tureaud, the civil rights lawyer and leader. Among Creole blacks, elementary and secondary education emerged in the nineteenth century under Catholic auspices, and notably produced a black order of teaching nuns. I have said that Baptists and Catholics predominate. Yet most Protestant groups have Negro churches in the city, among which one may be surprised to find Lutherans and Congregationalists.

There was always a degree of geographical separation between Creole-language and English-speaking blacks in New Orleans. Canal Street was the dividing line, except that the lower Ninth Ward, far “downtown,” was and is more like “uptown” than like the traditional Creole neighborhoods. After 1918, a synthesis was noticeable. Jazz was being played on both sides of Canal, and downtown seasoning was penetrating uptown kitchens. The slow disappearance of Creole language and the unity demanded by the herculean efforts at self-realization among all blacks have led to a great diminution of differences in our time.

Union_flag_1606__Kings_Colors_.jpg British: A few British came to New Orleans during the colonial period, but they were not prominent as a group. The most notorious British individual associated with the colonial city was John Law, a Scot working for the French monarchy, but he just set up the financial scheme associated with its establishment (the Company of the West, later the Company of the Indies) and never lived in Louisiana.

The area north of Lake Pontchartrain, which was part of West Florida and is sometimes referred to as “the Florida parishes,” was taken over by the British in 1763. While it was taken over again by the Spanish, then declared a republic in 1810, British settlers remained in the area, including retired soldiers and Tories from the rebelling thirteen colonies. The history and ethnic background of this part of southeastern Louisiana is therefore somewhat distinctive.

During the 19th century, more British immigrants arrived in New Orleans. Some had already lived in other parts of the US and settled, together with US-born migrants, in neighborhoods and communities upriver from the French Quarter. (Still others entered the country through the port of New Orleans but did not stay in the city.) Many residents of English and Scottish origin were active in the booming commerce of pre-Civil-War New Orleans, being well represented in the cotton trade — particularly with Liverpool — shipping interests, and insurance. Ties were maintained with British-based firms. Anglo-Americans also increasingly occupied positions of local political leadership.

New Orleanians of British origin made some significant contributions to the community. One notable example, James Henry Caldwell (1793-1863), an immigrant from Manchester (via Virginia), was one of the developers of the Faubourg St. Mary, now the city’s central business district. He also built and managed the first English-language theatre in the city, introduced gas lighting in the 1820s and 1830s, and became a prominent bank president and politician. Another was Hull-born architect Thomas K. Wharton. A number of the grandest mansions of the Garden District were built for immigrants from Britain. Business leaders with British roots were among the founders of the city’s earliest and most prestigious Mardi Gras organizations, such as the Mystick Krewe of Comus (formed in 1857 and initially associated with the Pickwick Club) and the Krewe of Rex (formed in 1872 by members of the Boston Club).

A number of immigrants from the UK have come to New Orleans during the 20th and 21st centuries, drawn by the distinctive culture, career opportunities, or both.

Flag_of_the_People_s_Republic_of_China.svg.png Chinese: A very small number of Chinese immigrants lived in southeastern Louisiana prior to the U.S. Civil War (some with anglicized or Spanish names). With the emancipation of the slaves and the end of that war, groups of Chinese laborers were brought in through New Orleans to work on sugar plantations in Louisiana and Arkansas. Some of them came from Cuba and spoke Spanish. A number of them became cotton mill workers.

By the mid-1870s and 1880s, more Chinese immigrants were settling in New Orleans itself. In addition to working in Chinese importing companies, they worked as cigar makers and sellers, grocers, restauranteurs, and other types of retail entrepreneurs. They were particularly noted for the numerous Chinese hand laundries. The arrival of groups of Chinese and Chinese-American women from 1894 made possible the establishment of a more stable, if still small, Chinese-American community in the city. While they lived throughout the city, a cluster of businesses and social and religious institutions formed a small Chinatown section in downtown New Orleans, which which was identifiable until 1937.

The New Orleans Public Library has made available a list of Chinese businesses in the city in 1897. During the 20th century, the Chinese Americans, like a number of other ethnic groups, tended to migrate outwards to the suburbs. Perhaps the best-known local Chinese American was the late Harry Lee, a long-time Jefferson Parish Sheriff. Outside of the city, from the 1870s into the 20th century, Chinese and Filipino immigrants worked as shrimp dryers along coastal southeastern Louisiana.


It is hard to say how long the Chinese have been in New Orleans. Certainly, there were Chinese working the Millaudun Plantation near today’s Tulane University in the 1870s. There was a substantial “Chinatown” near the present main Public Library well before the beginning of the present century. Furthermore, the warm and humid climate and the popularity of starched shirts and suits among the male population made a Chinese laundry as common a facility in the neighborhoods as the Italian grocery. The Chinese also seem to have been engaged in selling dried Louisiana shrimp, prepared in the swamps below New Orleans. Their chief market was doubtless found in supplying their own homes and restaurants throughout America. There were a few unpretentious Chinese restaurants in the city, at least from the beginning of the twentieth century. These have really snowballed in our time to several dozen throughout the metropolitan area, some of them very sophisticated places, and increased immigration in recent years has helped staff these. Of course the Chinese are also to be found in nearly all the professions and intellectual pursuits. Though some retained their own religious practices, locally many joined the Presbyterian church, and a Chinese congregation exists. Perhaps more than any other local ethnic group of long standing, the Chinese have retained their own speech, attitudes, and domestic culture.

Flag_of_Louisiana_in_Creole.jpg Creole: In colonial New Orleans, native-born New Orleanians (“criollos” or “creoles” as opposed to those fresh off the boat from Europe), whether of French, Spanish, African, or Amerindian descent, tended to mix freely with one another, resulting in a cultural and racial mixture later also termed “Creole.” In New Orleans, one does not speak as much about “French-Americans,” “Spanish-Americans,” etc., as about “old Creole families,” who typically spoke French, sometimes into the 20th century, have retained French surnames, and are Catholic. In the days of Jim Crow laws, some of these families ended up being classified as “white” while others were classified strictly as “Negro,” projecting backwards racial dichotomies inconsistent with much of the city’s complex history and ethnicities.

Flag_of_Cuba.jpg Cuban: After Castro seized power in Cuba the Hispanics in New Orleans were joined by a steady stream of Cubans, at first chiefly of the moneyed and professional class, who found a home, not a few of them coming to relatives already long established in the Big Easy. Their advent has caused the visible presence of the Latin- American to increase in the city, with Cuban groceries, Latin meat markets, Spanish movies and restaurants with names like “La Caridad.” Some now estimate that there are now 100,000 Spanish speakers in the area of greater New Orleans. Though this is perhaps exaggerated, there can be no doubt that the large Hispanic presence is a post war phenomenon, and that Cubans and Hondurans make up the largest subgroups at present. There is comparatively little linguistic continuity with the eighteenth and nineteenth century Spanish, though there is doubtless considerably more in such disparate things as religious outlook, cookery, and sex patterns.

Flag_of_the_Netherlands.jpg Dutch: Common maritime interests, a proximity to offshore oil deposits, and a similarly vulnerable, low-lying situation have brought the Netherlands and New Orleans together at different times during their history. In addition to the shipping industry, during the heyday of the oil industry in the 1960s and 1970s, many Dutch citizens connected with Royal Dutch Shell came to work in the city. The Wood pumps — designed by New Orleans engineer A. Baldwin Wood in 1913-1915 to improve the pumping and drainage of land in New Orleans below sea level — served as a model for 20th-century Dutch pumps. In turn, following Hurricane Katrina, city and state officials and engineers seeking enlightenment on ways to improve the hurricane and flood protection of Southeastern Louisiana visited the Netherlands on a fact-finding mission.

Flag_of_the_Philippines.jpg Filipino: There is evidence that during the 1760s, under Spanish rule, the shores of Lake Borgne, east of New Orleans, were the location of the first Asian settlement in what later became the US, made by a group of Filipinos. By the 1870s, Filipinos, along with Chinese, were among the shrimp dryers living in the coastal areas of Louisiana, where one community was named Manila Village and another Saint Malo. Changing eating and shipping patterns led to the decline of this industry in the 20th century, and a deserted Manila Village was wiped out during Hurricane Betsy in 1965. The 2004 census update recorded 6801 Filipinos in Louisiana, most of them in the southeast. There was a Filipino consulate general in New Orleans. Local festivals include the Filipino Santa Cruzan / Flores de Mayo celebration and the Fiesta Filipina.


It seems likely that family tradition is correct in putting the first Filipino seamen in New Orleans during the Spanish domination. They would have come first to Vera Cruz, arriving there from Acapulco, which had a steady trade with the Philippines. Their association with fishing has been strong. In the 1870s Lafcadio Hearn wrote an illustrated article on the Filipino settlement of St. Malo in St. Bernard Parish, with its native buildings built over water. There were similar villages to the west of the Mississippi, such as Bassa Bassa in Barataria Bay. About the turn of the century, there was a small Filipino enclave on Bayou St. John in New Orleans proper, and others lived in the lower French Quarter, adjacent to the French Market and its fish trade. The Filipinos were semi-Spanish in culture and outlook. Their benevolent society, which published its bylaws not long after the Civil War, was called the “Sociedad Hispano-Filipina” and wrote its pamphlet in Spanish. They have never been present in very large numbers, though they were re-inforced by further immigrants after the Spanish-American War. They have retained a fairly close unity, though there have been a few marriages outside the community. The independence of the Philippines and higher education have fostered an increased pride in the native costume, attitudes and identity. Recent repression in the Islands has sent a few liberal intellectual exiles to join the community.

Flag_of_France.jpg French: Many French settled in New Orleans during the colonial period; some arrived directly from France, while others came from Canada or the West Indies. The original groups following the city’s foundation included more-or-less involuntary immigrants such as convicts, indentured servants, rounded-up vagrants, and former prostitutes, together with speculators enthused by John Law’s financial enterprise. The Ursulines, who arrived in the city in 1727, took young, marriageable women from respectable French families under their care and established a convent, hospital, school, and orphanage, thus helping to develop a more stable population.

From 1765 through 1785, Acadians exiled from Canada came to Louisiana, although most settled in rural areas west of New Orleans. The late 18th century and beginning of the 19th brought many French-speaking immigrants to the city who were fleeing unrest in revolutionary France and/or the revolt in Saint-Domingue. French and francophone immigrants continued to arrive through the first half of the 19th century, sometimes via the West Indies. A number of New Orleanians maintained ties with extended family members in France and returned there for part of their education. In recent decades, some of the French who came as students or tourists have ended up staying in a city perceived as a French cultural outpost.


French immigration to New Orleans occurs in roughly six waves.

The First Wave (French-Canadians): Many of the French who arrived in New Orleans during its first forty years were Canadians. These natives of what is now Quebec (not to be confused with Acadians) had already penetrated the Great Lakes and the rivers of the Mississippi valley for furs and for France, spreading a tenuous web of French presence from Detroit to St. Louis and Vincennes to the Gulf. They were already Americans, for the settlement of French Canada had begun more than a century before. These hardy men and women were accustomed to solitude, to Indians, to privations, and to near-Arctic weather. Some were the sons of the local Canadian nobility, recent creations of the French government. Others were simple coureurs de bois . It was surely their aptitude for survival that kept the colony going in the face of extraordinary mismanagement in France. Both Le Moyne d’Iberville, the founder of the Louisiana colony, and his younger brother, Bienville, founder of New Orleans, came from the Canadian “noblesse.” So were such early New Orleans landowners as the Livilliers, Chalmettes, Trudeaus and Denis de la Rondes, to name but a few.

The Second Wave (French colonists): The second main source of early colonization was France itself. Although the military abounded in mercenaries of various European origins, most were surely French. French too was the clergy and all that part of the civil administration which was not Canadian. The remainder of the French immigrants was an ill-adapted group for pioneering. The best had come out to repair their fortunes in the mistaken belief that there was fast money to be made in the new colony. The least likely to work out were the minor criminals, vagrants and women of immoral life who were brought to New Orleans by the government as a result of a dragnet operation to find sufficient bodies to make the colony seem to prosper. This kind of recruitment gained permanent artistic expression in the eighteenth century writer Prevost’s Manon Lescaut, later made into operas by both Massenet and Puccini.

As Louisiana passed through the hands of the private entrepreneur Crozat and the Mississippi Company headed by John Law, it took a few years before France began to send orphan girls of decent upbringing to provide wives and bourgeois family life for the area and its new capital. One Creole historian has proposed that the victims of the dragnet left no offspring; this is too nice to be true, but it is likely that their survival rate was low, since they were not attuned to wilderness living or hard agricultural tasks. Within a decade of the city’s foundation, the “home office” of John Law’s Mississippi Company in Paris was sending over German peasants to settle above the city and grow food for the inhabitants, something the French either would not or could not do. On the other hand, we know from the surviving letters of one of the first Ursuline nuns (1737) that the town was full of velvet and brocade (doubtless somewhat roach-eaten), and that the outpost already piqued itself on its imitation of Parisian elegance.

The Third Wave (Acadian refugees): The third class of French are the Acadian refugees from British barbarism who settled the Mississippi river above the German Coast and the Attakapas area in south-central Louisiana. These displaced persons began to arrive in New Orleans about the time the French were ceding Louisiana to the Spanish (both the displacement and the cession were results of the French and Indian War). A few of these intermarried with other French families already in Louisiana and settled in New Orleans. Chiefly, however, they remained rural and agricultural until the first world war, since which large numbers of “Cajuns” have come to live in New Orleans, and especially its southwestern suburbs. Fully nine out of ten of those people who still speak French in greater New Orleans are the descendants of these Nova Scotian refugees.

The Fourth Wave (Haitian refugees): A fourth group, refugees again, were the inhabitants of “Saint-Domingue” or present day Haiti, who began to turn up in New Orleans about thirty years after the Acadians began to arrive. In the last decade of the eighteenth century, “Saint-Domingue” was the richest of all European colonies because of a strict slave-based plantation system dedicated chiefly to the production of sugar. The propertied classes lived luxuriously. Between the dominant class and their slaves there developed a middle class of “People of Color.” As an aftermath of the French Revolution, the slaves rose against France and their masters. Under a flag made by tearing the white out of the tricolor they drove out Napoleon’s soldiers and sent the propertied classes into often impoverished exile. Many, both of pure French and of mixed ancestry, arrived little by little in New Orleans. Unlike the Acadians, they mostly remained in the city, so that they eventually doubled its population and added sophistication to its tone, since they turned to schools, to newspapers, to music and the stage in their search for the means of life. Most of them were still legally Frenchmen at the time of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, but they blended easily with the earlier French-speaking populations, intermarrying with them and altering the French accent of New Orleans, so that New Orleans French and Creole are markedly different in accent and vocabulary from Canadian or “Cajun” French. Some of the Haitian refugees stayed for a number of years in eastern Cuba before settling in New Orleans. Others sojourned for some decades in Jamaica. Incidentally, it is probable that “red beans and rice,” the classic poor man’s dish of New Orleans, was originally an adaptation of a dish common in the greater Antilles and made from a reddish pea rather than the local kidney bean (or red bean) of New Orleans. French New Orleanians of recent times at least have called kidney beans pois rouges or “red peas”, not haricots or beans, as one might logically expect.

The Fifth Wave (19th century): A fifth and often unnoticed large source of French population was an almost continuous flow of immigration from France throughout the nineteenth century. It is this continued stream which accounts for much of the vitality of the French language in New Orleans throughout the century. Following hard on the heels of aristocratic Royalists chased out by the Revolution came revolutionaries disenchanted with Napoleon. After Waterloo, they were followed by disappointed veterans. Each change of government sent its quota, but local prosperity at midcentury attracted much commerce with France; cotton and sugar were exchanged for wine, luxury items, and even cobblestones. Many Frenchmen therefore came to seek their fortunes or represent their firms; most were from the area of the port of Bordeaux, through which much of the commerce was funneled. There was some antipathy between the older and new French populations at first; the new French lined up politically with the Irish and Germans in the Democratic party while some of the old Catholic French rather naively joined the Know-Nothings. But by the Civil War these differences were pretty much healed, and the children of the new arrivals, many of whom had become quite prominent in the boom economy, were easily accepted into the new clearly separate Creole culture and language-group. Meanwhile, it was not uncommon for such newcomers to form permanent or short-term associations with free women of color, whether Louisianan from the beginning or more recently arrived from Haiti. In so doing they only imitated the established Caucasian Creole custom, and added to the nonwhite French-speaking population.

The Sixth Wave (Post-Civil War): The sixth and last substantial French immigration took place after the Civil War. These were peasants from the Pyrenees who found work as dairymen, butchers, restauranteurs and waiters. Many of their descendants made their mark in life, but they were not usually absorbed into the Creole ethnic group. Perhaps Americanization was by now more attractive to them. The Creoles themselves had been too traumatized by the war to continue to absorb newcomers. or simply felt compelled to assert their former position in life by declining to “know” the newly landed Pyrenean Gascons and their children.

In the twentieth century, immigration from France has been much reduced, and such few as have come here have kept to themselves or associated with the general English-speaking population more than with the senescent French-language Creole group. Though to this day there survive a handful of “French” associations of a social, literary, or dramatic type, most of them Creole in origin, the French-speaking membership of groups like L’Athenee Louisianais, Les Causeries du Lundi, etc., is made up mostly of French nationals and American academics.

Yet this does not mean that a pride in French ancestry, a devotion to old customs such as the Epiphany Cake and the visits to ancestral tombs on All Saints Day, a serious dedication to good food and drink, a general (if sometimes lukewarm) identification with the Catholic church and a surviving preference for endogamy have ceased to exist as real forces in New Orleanians of French descent. Indeed, several of these traits permeate to a similar degree the rest of the “creolized” culture of New Orleans.

Flag_of_Germany__3-2_aspect_ratio_.jpg German: There were some colonial-period Germans living in New Orleans, including speculators lured over by John Law’s enterprise. Many other Germans, including Swiss-Germans, colonized an area of farmland along the Mississippi River upriver from the city. The term “German Coast” (Côte des Allemands) is still used for this area in St. Charles and St. John parishes; the town name “Des Allemands” also commemorates German presence, as do place names based on German surnames.

More German immigrants came to New Orleans in the first half of the nineteenth century. While some remained in the New Orleans area, particularly settling in communities just west or south of the city that soon turned into nineteenth-century suburbs, many other Germans entering through the port moved on from New Orleans to more northerly and westerly parts of Louisiana and the US.

The descendants of 18th century German immigrant, Hans Jacob Heidel, set up this bakery on Jefferson Highway in Metairie (Jefferson Parish). During the period 1864-1898, a third wave of German immigration through New Orleans took place; however, most of these arrivals did not remain in the city.


The first wave of Germans to arrive in the vicinity of New Orleans has been already mentioned. These early eighteenth-century Louisianians were chiefly rural, and concentrated along the Mississippi, north and west of the city.

They were largely illiterate, unambitious at first, and remarkably prolific. The greatest concentration came from the Rhenish Palatinate. Most of them had their origins somewhat obscured by the respelling of their names attributable to the French churchmen and civil authority, so that Troxler became Trosclair, Traeger became Tregle, and Dubs, Toups. After the settlement of the first Acadians a little above them, these Germans, already largely Gallicized, intermarried with the Acadians and with Creole French. A good many of them eventually moved to town; but even those that stayed had lost their German ethnicity and taken on a Creole identity before the next wave of Germans, one with less impact, at least in New Orleans, settled in various parts of the state, and especially the Florida parishes (i.e. the vicinity of Baton Rouge) shortly after Louisiana became a state. This settlement doubtless accounts for place names like Kleinpeter, Geismar, Hohen Solms. Essen Lane and Dutchtown, in the vicinity of the present capital. Some of the second-wave Germans also sooner or later settled in New Orleans, e.g. Frederick Reinecke, who moved from Baton Rouge in 1815. Other Germans drifted into New Orleans direct from Europe all through the first four decades of the century, at first largely drawn by the tobacco trade. These came in sufficiently small numbers to be absorbed quickly, whether by the French language or English language population.

In the 1840s and 1850s the German immigration follows the pattern of the nation as a whole. Great numbers of Protestant and Catholic Germans arrived to find prosperity in the generally up-swinging economy. They founded their own churches, schools, social clubs and lodges, theaters, and daily newspapers, settling mostly outside the French Quarter in the Eighth and Ninth wards downtown and in such uptown suburbs as Lafayette (now Jackson Ave. area), Jefferson (now Napoleon Ave. section) and Carrollton. As elsewhere, after a generation or two these mid-century Germans found themselves easily and insensibly merging into the American mainstream, but there were still substantial evidences of German culture at the outbreak of World War I. Then, in an emotional climate which forbade Beethoven and rechristened sauerkraut as “liberty cabbage,” the vigilance committees made any public identification with German roots hazardous. I know of an upper-class New Orleanian who bore a German middle name, and was in those days visited at home by a pistol-packing “loyalty committee” which impugned his fidelity to the American cause and generally sought to intimidate him until he showed them on the wall behind him the portrait of his German ancestor as a revolutionary officer. Under the picture was a framed letter of thanks to this officer from George Washington. The telling point, though, is that thousands of people with German names were just as American but had no such portrait or letter. Today, one would hardly know that there were German language churches and schools in New Orleans as recently as 1917.

The German societies for the most part disbanded. German disappeared as an elective in the public high schools. The Lutherans today tend to retain a sense of ethnicity through their own churches and parochial schools, whereas the Catholics have intermarried more with other ethnic groups. The great German immigration left New Orleans a beer-drinking city, but except in a few households, characteristically German food has been creolized if it survives at all. A well-known case in point would be the famous old German restaurant on St. Charles Street, with its red-bean lunches. The Deutsehes Haus organization still exists, but mainly as a rallying point for first-generation Germans and their families, and these are few in number. The very large immigration, which could at one time support several German theaters, has retained surprisingly little identity, save for family names, religion, and physical types. It leaves its traces chiefly in a few fine old buildings (notably St. Mary’s Assumption on Constance Street) and in some words and phrases characteristic of the New Orleans English dialect. Where else, for instance, does “I live by mama” (compare German bei ) mean “at my mother’s house”?

Flag_of_Greece.jpg Greek: Greek immigration to New Orleans continued throughout the 19th century and into the 20th, beginning relatively early due to maritime connections. There were enough Greek residents for an association to be formed in the 1840s. The Church was established in 1864 — the oldest Greek Orthodox congregation in the United States.

A Greek-American identity beyond the first-generation immigrants has been maintained more clearly and actively than for most European ethnic groups in New Orleans, probably partly because of the distinctive religious affiliation and church. As of the early 21st century, there are members of this community who still hold property in Greece and speak of retiring there.


There were some Greeks in New Orleans in Spanish days. Thus there was in the late eighteenth century a Creole Spanish officer named Dragon whose daughter married another Greek named Dimitry in the early nineteenth century. Others started to arrive in substantial numbers well before mid-century, frequenting the area of the French Market, still affecting the Near Eastern fez. Some of them sold sweets and ice cream on the streets. The Greek Orthodox Church in New Orleans is the oldest in the United States, dating to the 1850s. Whereas many Greek immigrants to the rest of the United States opened restaurants, here they found this field already crowded at first, and many took up the sweetshop and confectionery business, hat-blocking, shoe repairing and boot polishing before branching out into a variety of other professions and enterprises. Their tendency to find wives in the old country, and their separate religious practices and calendar have kept the Greeks of New Orleans to this day a very tight community, often bilingual and fiercely proud of their ancestry.

Flag_of_Hungary.jpg Hungarian: A number of refugees from the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 have settled in the New Orleans metropolitan area.




Flag_of_C_te_d_Ivoire.jpg Irish: A few Irish came to New Orleans during the colonial period. One well-known example was Alexander (Alejandro) O’Reilly, a military leader in the employ of the Spanish monarchy, who put down the 1768 rebellion against the Spanish.

Most Irish immigrants came over during the first half of the 19th century. The “Old Irish,” who settled 1800-ca. 1830, tended to be more prosperous, often professionals from Ulster, whereas the “New Irish” arrived ca. 1830-1862, especially during the Potato Famine, and generally worked as manual laborers, such as ditch diggers and dock workers, or as servants. (The New Basin Canal route still has a Celtic cross as a memorial to those who died digging the no-longer-extant canal.) While the Irish lived in various parts of city, one area became known as the “Irish Channel.”

A more recent wave of immigration includes many Irish who moved to New Orleans from the 1970s, including artists, musicians, and proprietors of Irish pubs in the French Quarter. Prior to Katrina, a semi-regular Celtic Nations Festival, organized primarily by Irish immigrants, was held in the New Orleans area every other year or so.


Like the Germans, the people of Ireland began to arrive in the earliest days of the colony. The Irish have sought the aid of France and Spain against England throughout most of modern history. In the eighteenth century, many Catholic Irish, especially the more prominent class, took service with the kings of Spain or France, in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. For this reason one finds a good many Frenchmen to this day who bear Irish names. Marechal MacMahon was an early president of the Third Republic One of the early French officers who received grants of lands in and about New Orleans and established a prominent Creole family was the Chevalier de Macarty. A few others of less importance were also quickly absorbed into the French milieu.

The Spanish government, however, was much more generous in its use of Irish soldiers and Irish clergy to serve the Louisiana colony. The harsh but effective Alejandro O’Reilly, a native of Dublin, suppressed the French uprising against the first Spanish governor and remained to govern the colony himself. Casa Calvo’s mother was an O’Farrill. Governor Carondelet had a sister-in-law named Plunkett, Lord Dunsany’s daughter. O’Reilly himself was under the direct command of one of his relatives, Richard Wall, then in charge at Havana. This Hiberno-Spanish presence attracted some merchant-class Irish, especially from the English colonies. One of these, Oliver Pollock, with a house in New Orleans, was a major help in j provisioning the American Revolution. Some say that Carondelet used Irish to dig his extension of Bayou St. John to the area of Basin Street. Even if this is a confusion by historians with similar later excavations, there would have doubtless been enough Irish to form an English-language nucleus for the English-speaking Americans who first trickled into the Spanish city, then poured in after its cession to the United States.

But even though the Irish could very well take an “I was here before you” attitude to their WASP brethren in New Orleans, the history of the main Irish immigration is much like that which characterized the ports of our eastern seaboard.

The institutions which these nineteenth-century immigrants developed were in many ways equally typical. The Irish, like the Germans, needed separate Catholic churches for obvious language reasons. The second Catholic parish in New Orleans was St. Patrick’s on Camp Street. St. Patrick’s Hall on Lafayette Square was an important meeting place. The name of Hibernia Bank explains its origin. The large number of clergy and nuns which the immigrant population attracted eventually gave to the institutions of the Catholic Church an Irish coloring out of all proportion to the total number of Irish in the Catholic Diocese. To this day a parochial school child (some 60,000 in Greater New Orleans), whether named Boisseau or Maniscalco or Schulz, had better wear something green to school on St. Patrick’s day or beware the consequences.

The new Irish were mostly manual laborers when the great wave started to arrive in the 1820s, but they rapidly moved into the construction trades, the saloon business, city politics and the police. Nowadays, intermarriage, chiefly with other Catholic ethnic groups, has nearly effaced the special Irish identity, except for a degree of sentimental observance of the seventeenth of March, and even the various St. Patrick’s day parades and banquets have floats, as for Mardi Gras, and feature “queens” who often bear “Cajun” or Italian names. The old Irish Channel, the poor Irish district along the river above Howard Avenue, has long since lost most of its residential character, or has become a neighborhood for transients with no special ethnic flavor. For a long time the Irish lived mostly along or above Canal Street, outside the characteristically Latin part of New Orleans, but the great night to the suburbs has tended to obliterate even this regional distinction. Nowadays, a family of Irish name, if this name is not a mask for a number of cross-marriages, is likely to eat a little more blandly and less imaginatively than the rest of the New Orleans population, to be wary of garlic and tomatoes, to be a little more puritanical and pious, but to indulge in substantial drinking of spirits, especially on Sundays after Mass. Otherwise Irishness in New Orleans is a nostalgic and somewhat artificially preserved phenomenon today, and Irish immigration here, unlike, say in Boston, has become the tiniest of trickles, except that the last decade has seen some resurgence of the Irish priest and nun.

Italian.jpg Italian: Some Italians settled in New Orleans from the earliest period, although their names sometimes appeared in quasi-French form. A number arrived before and during the US Civil War, including explorers, business founders, soldiers, and clergymen. The first mutual aid society for Italian immigrants in the US was founded in New Orleans in 1843, and from 1850 to 1870, more Italians were settled in this city than in any other in the country. The main period of Italian immigration actually took place 1890-1910, particularly bringing over a large group from Sicily. Initially, these immigrants worked primarily as farmers, laborers, citrus importers, and shopkeepers, especially grocers. The French Quarter became known as “Little Sicily” or “Little Palermo” during the early 20th century.

The neighborhoods in which Italian immigrants settled were typically racially and ethnically integrated. As one result of this vibrant cultural mixture, a number of Italian New Orleanians made significant contributions to the early development of jazz; among the best-known of these musicians were Nick LaRocca and Louis Prima.

Today, Italian-Americans are active throughout the New Orleans metropolitan area’s economy and political life, with increasing intermarriage with members of other ethnic groups. In recent decades, most have moved out from the city itself into the suburbs, in surrounding parishes.

New Orleans area Italian-Americans have become known for the celebration of the St. Joseph’s Day parade, which has evolved into the “Irish-Italian Parade,” and their preparation of St. Joseph altars. Italian groceries can still be found in the French Quarter and elsewhere, while many beloved New Orleans neighborhood restaurants are run by Italian-descended families and feature “Italian Creole” cuisine.


An Italian presence is detectable in Louisiana from its earliest days, through Tonti (or Tonty), the important French officer who was moving up and down the river in the first years of the colony, troubleshooting and impressing the Indians with his iron artificial arm. Though the son of a Neopolitan financier, Tonti was of course in the French service. One may be surprised that in spite of the prominent role of Italians in New Orleans politics, he has never been commemorated further than by having a side street named after him.

Connections of Italy with Spain were stronger, however, and a fair number of Italians in the Spanish civil or military service settled in New Orleans, though sometimes a French spelling or pronunciation obscures this fact, as in the case of the Bouligny family. In the next century, a good many Italians were seamen, ship owners and the like, A number of Jean Lafitte’s associates bore such names as Paturzo, Chigizola and Belucci (Beluche). Music and art, as might be expected, were also prominent areas of Italian presence. The immigration of large numbers of Sicilian peasants began in the second half of the century. Though most first came to do agricultural work on plantations, it was not long before they were coming to the city to work on the docks. The last decade of the century found them settled in ever-increasing numbers in the Vieux Carre, which was then like little Italy, with its focal point being the Italian church, built a century before by Almonester as a chapel for the Ursulines.

Resentment against the newcomers reached a peak toward the end of the century, when the Irish police chief was assassinated, supposedly by certain disaffected Sicilians. These were arrested, tried, and acquitted, but before they could be released, they were lynched in Congo Square by a mob that forced its way into Parish Prison. The death of Chief Hennessey and its ghastly consequence served to perpetuate hostilities which have barely died down in our own time. The severe cutback in southern European immigration to the United States greatly diminished the number of new Italian arrivals after World War I. Meanwhile the older immigrants had established themselves in the grocery and food trades, in popular and classical music, and a great variety of other trades and businesses. By and large, they lived in the downtown or “Mediterranean” half of the city, though the corner grocery took them into every ward and precinct.

Sixty years have now passed since massive Italian immigration ended. The Italian-speaking young or even middle-aged person is now a rarity. Nonetheless, New Orleans Italians into our own day often live close to one another, preserve ethnic customs and devotions such as the cult of St. Rosalie, characterized by processions with the statue of the saint carried on a dais, and the St. Joseph Altars of March 19, which feature elaborate Italian dishes and breads distributed to the poor after an allegorical Christian pageant by the children of the family and neighborhood, A few Italian mutual benevolence societies still survive, though "Italian Hall’ on Esplanade has been converted to other purposes. The south Italian cuisine has left its mark everywhere on the New Orleans restaurant scene, and even among the most Creole of families, Italian dishes such as meatballs and spaghetti are of everyday consumption.

The younger and more prosperous Italians of New Orleans have followed the Irish in showing a romantic and sometimes intentionally comic ethnic sense, staging “civic” St. Joseph Altars, sponsoring Italian golf tournaments, backing the “Piazza d’ltalia” on Poydras St., and distributing bumper stickers with such legends as “Mafia Staff Car” and “You keepa you hand offa ma car.” But throughout New Orleans and adjacent parishes, within the last thirty or forty years the young Italians are increasingly intermarrying with the rest of the population, perhaps largely because of friendships formed in the parochial schools.

Japanese.jpg Japanese: Japanese and Koreans have been present in rather small numbers since the 1950s, and are visible through the presence of several ethnic restaurants. Most of them are either academics, medical personnel or engaged in foreign trade, especially since America has imported so many products from both countries. None of their national or cultural groups have much public visibility. The same can be said of the Indians and Pakistanis who are present as medical personnel, college faculty members and students. They tend to retain some aspects of national dress, and to show up in unexpected jobs.

Flag_of_Israel.jpg Jewish: There has been a large and thriving Jewish community in New Orleans since the 19th century. Only a few Jewish immigrants were able to live in the colonial city; they were technically barred by law (not always enforced) from doing so. From 1803, however, more began arriving, from other parts of the US or from the Caribbean as well as from Europe. The first wave of Jewish settlers were both Sephardic and Ashkenazi, generally coming from Portuguese, Spanish, German, and Alsatian roots, with some Polish immigrants by the 1850s. Later 19th-century Jewish immigrants tended to be of Polish and other Eastern European background, in addition to Alsatians emigrating after the Franco-Prussian War.

The earliest Jewish congregation, Shangarai Chasset (Gates of Mercy), was established in 1827. Others, followed, often initially based on particular national groups. Two of the largest were Temple Sinai, founded in 1870, and Touro Synagogue. The latter was formed in 1881 from the merger of the Gates of Mercy with the Dispersed of Judah (Nefutshoh Judah); it was named for a prominent former patron, Judah Touro. The congregations tended to move to buildings further from the center of the city as it grew, so that today many Jews and their synagogues are located in the suburb of Metairie.

While some arrived as small peddlers or manual workers, a number of New Orleans Jews soon became prominent as bankers, lawyers, physicians, and academics. A few were politically active during the 19th century; Judah P. Benjamin was elected in 1852 as the first openly Jewish member of the US Senate. Jewish family-owned clothing, jewelry, and department stores frequently became local institutions by the early 20th century. Jewish New Orleanians have also been active as philanthropists and civic leaders, in both Jewish and secular organizations. Jewish donors founded local entities such as Delgado College, Touro Infirmary, the Isaac Delgado Museum of Art — later renamed the New Orleans Museum of Art — and the “K&B” (Katz and Besthoff) art plaza.


The first Jews in Louisiana surely date back to eighteenth-century days, but they became more visible only under the American domination, since the Spanish were hostile to their presence. Most of the early Jews came from the Antilles and from the American eastern seaboard, and counted in their number many Sephardic or Hispano-Mediterranean Jews, of whom Judah Touro, the philanthropist, became the most prominent. So generous were his gifts to almshouses, orphanages, hospitals, synagogues and churches that the city fathers once named Canal Street in his honor, though the change never met with popular acceptance. A good many among the early Jews, both Sephardic and German, found brides among the local French Christian population, and one finds Levys and Cohens among the New Orleans Creole families. The Jews from Germany generally prospered as retail merchants, quickly taking on many of the cultural traits of the rest of the population, and tending to an easygoing, brand of Reformism. Only late in the nineteenth century do poor Jews from Eastern Europe begin to arrive, and then in far smaller numbers than in the cities of the East. We find most of these working in the clothing and furniture retail businesses. Whereas New Orleans resembles New York in having large Irish, German and Italian settlement, its Jewish population has constituted a much smaller percen tage of the whole. There has never been a true “Jewish quarter,” though, as soon as there was an American or “Uptown” neighborhood, the Jews, like the Irish, preferred it to the old predominantly French section. All the synagogues and temples of greater New Orleans are on the “uptown” side of Canal (or Touro) Street. Only in recent years have a few of these ventured from the vicinity of St. Charles Avenue to suburbs such as Clearview and Lakeview. If Jews are noticed in New Orleans today, it is either in the business world, in the religious news, or as the unquestioned leaders of fund-raising for a variety of cultural and civic activities. It would seem that if any but the minimal religious and folk customs are practiced by either Sephardic or German Jewish families, it must be by way of conscious revival. The Eastern European Jews, more recently arrived, are also more generally orthodox, and likely to conduct themselves in a separate lifestyle.

Flag_of_South_Korea.jpg Korean: Japanese and Koreans have been present in rather small numbers since the 1950s, and are visible through the presence of several ethnic restaurants. Most of them are either academics, medical personnel or engaged in foreign trade, especially since America has imported so many products from both countries. None of their national or cultural groups have much public visibility. The same can be said of the Indians and Pakistanis who are present as medical personnel, college faculty members and students. They tend to retain some aspects of national dress, and to show up in unexpected jobs.

Latino.jpg Latino: Since 1959, most Spanish-speaking immigrants to metropolitan New Orleans have come from Latin America, particularly Cuba and Central America. This community has been the driving force behind Spanish-language periodical publications issued locally, at least prior to Katrina.

The most recent wave of at least temporary migration to the New Orleans area has been an influx of Hispanic workers who have come since September 2005 to help with the post-Katrina cleanup and rebuilding. (This Hispanic group consists of a higher percentage of Mexican nationals and Chicanos than the previous mix of Hispanic Louisianans incorporated.) While the long-term impact of these new New Orleans inhabitants is not yet known, Latino-oriented food stands have quickly appeared on streets, and local residents working with this group have been brushing up their Spanish or seeking the assistance of representatives of the local Hispanic community. A Celebración Latina was held in late April 2007.

Flag_of_Lebanon.jpg Lebanese: The late nineteenth century and early twentieth saw a substantial influx of Christian Syro-Lebanese all over south Louisiana and parts of Mississippi. These were initially peddlers and merchants, selling dry goods and groceries in the country towns of the area, and buying from others who were jobbers in New Orleans. All used the Arabic tongue among themselves and worshiped in Latin Rite Catholic churches for lack of their own establishment, though the old people used Arabic prayer books when they attended. Today, many are prominent doctors, lawyers, politicians and businessmen. This small industrious group has never had a quarter nor been very conspicuous in New Orleans, though their presence is more obvious in the Acadian parts of Louisiana. Many Lebanese brought here a fluent knowledge of French. Therefore, at first most lived in the downtown Creole part of town. They retain their ethnic customs and foods to a degree, and some continue to bring over relatives rather like the Greeks and Yugoslavs.

slide-1-728.jpg Middle Eastern: Immigration to New Orleans from the Middle East dates back well over a century, as people from Syria-Lebanon settled in the city during the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (1870s-1920s). The primary waves of immigrants from the Middle East (including North Africa) have arrived since World War II, drawn from different sources ranging from Morocco to Iran, with relatively large numbers of Lebanese, Palestinians, and Egyptians. They have settled in different parts of the metropolitan area, currently particularly in the suburbs.

In addition to their national identifications, Middle Eastern Louisianans have often formed religious communities. The earliest immigrants were usually Christian — Lebanese Maronite and Syrian Orthodox, in addition to ethnically Greek Christians coming from Turkey and Egypt. Over the years, mosques and churches have been formed, with some of the former serving African-American Muslims as well as Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims.

The full impact of people of Middle Eastern background on the economic life of the city goes beyond the visible, numerous Middle Eastern / North African restaurants and grocery stores — popular as those establishments often are with New Orleanians of all ethnic backgrounds. People with Middle Eastern names own many other types of properties. They are also well represented in the professions and academia (including even the odd librarian). A few Louisiana political figures are of Middle Eastern extraction.

In the wake of Katrina, Middle Easterners have shown particular resilience (possibly partly a result of conditioning through challenging experiences in their countries of origin?). In more than one neighborhood, including some devastated ones, among the first businesses to re-open after the storm were Middle Eastern restaurants, along with laundromats and small groceries run by Middle Eastern immigrants. A few entrepreneurs of Middle Eastern background have even opened new businesses in New Orleans in 2006, making a financial as well as symbolic commitment to the city’s recovery.

Norway.jpg Norwegian: New Orleanians of Norwegian descent constitute a small, cohesive group, with about 200 in metropolitan New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina, according to the Louisiana Folklife Center website. Norwegian sailors continue to pass through and stop in the port city. The Norwegian Seamen’s Church (1772 Prytania, phone (504) 525-3602) was founded in 1906 and is celebrating its centenary this year. It is also known as the “Jazzkirk” because of its jazz performances during services. This institution is connected with the Norwegian Seamen’s Mission – Sjømannsmisjonen. Serving both immigrants and Norwegians passing through town, it continues to be a place where Norwegian can be spoken and heard and where congregation members and visitors of all ethnicities can purchase imported Scandianavian food, Norwegian publications, and, in December, traditionally Norwegian Christmas items.

southasia-flags.jpg South Asian: South Asians have come to the New Orleans area, from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, primarily during the later 20th into the 21st century. The majority live in suburban neighborhoods, as professionals and their families. The best known South-Asian-American in Louisiana, who lived for a time in the Greater New Orleans area, is Indian-American Governor Bobby Jindal (born Piyush Jindal). Members of the South Asian community in Greater New Orleans represent multiple ethnicities and religions.

Flag_of_Spain.jpg Spanish: While many Spaniards came to New Orleans during the colonial era, they were more limited in number than inhabitants of French descent. They tended to mix in quickly with French and other New Orleans residents, forming a French-speaking Creole (criollo) mix of native-born New Orleanians. (See also “French, French-Speaking and Creole.”) Some Spanish immigrants continued to settle in the area during the first half of the nineteenth century. A specific Spanish identity was retained longer outside of New Orleans, in St. Bernard Parish, among “Los Isleños” and, to some extent, in New Iberia (southwestern Louisiana).

The Spanish element in New Orleans has, of course, left its mark on the typically Spanish-colonial architecture of the Vieux Carré. It also survives, in hints, in some building and street names, such as the Cabildo and the Pontalba building on Jackson Square and Galvez and Gayoso streets (named for governors during the Spanish period).


Spaniards and Spanish-Americans have been settling in New Orleans almost without interruption from the 1760s to the present. With the Spanish colonial government which replaced that of France less than fifty years after the foundation of the city, there arrived various major and minor civil officials and a substantial number of officers and regular soldiers. Some of these were married men with children. If they themselves did not acquire lands and business interests in the colony, often their children did, and remained to marry and reside permanently in New Orleans. Many others were single, and took the examples of Governor Galvez (m. St. Maxent) and Miro (m. Le Breton) in marrying into the French planter class. Thus Antonio Cruzat, Spanish officer and son of the lieutenant governor of Upper Louisiana, married Victoire Chalmette and remained as Treasurer of the City of New Orleans for many years under the American regime; the parvenu millionaire Andres Almonester married the beautiful but dumb “Louison” Denis de la Ronde, These officials and their children were soon followed by immigrants of the merchant class, mostly from Catalonia and Andalusia, who continued to arrive all through the first half of the nineteenth century. In mid-century New Orleans Catalans all but monopolized the grocery trade. They were also known as keepers of small drinking places then called “cabarets.” On the initiative of Governor Galvez, whose purpose was to develop a loyal indigenous population, a third class of Spaniards began systematically to settle strategic locations in south Louisiana, notably around Donaldsonville, at New Iberia, and just a few miles from New Orleans in the marshy area which he named St. Bernard, where the language and folklore of Spain survive today. The settlement of St. Bernard was recruited chiefly among natives of the Canary Islands, and the people of Spanish tongue in St. Bernard still identify themselves as Isleos, whereas the French called themñ Islingues. In New Orleans, linguistic absorption into the French-speaking majority was rapid, and became inevitable after the Louisiana Purchase. Characteristically, the New Orleans Creole of the late nineteenth or early twentieth century scarcely knew whether Gonzales and Garcia were French names or not. They were surely Creole. This fact has given rise to the incorrect notion that a Creole must be of French and Spanish descent, though in fact there were French and Irish and German Creoles in New Orleans before the cession to Spain. The Spanish merchants had in fact often married wives of French descent. Thus Manuel Blasco, native of Alicante, dealing in olive oil and wine, arrived single in the early nineteenth century and married a daughter of the local Richoux family, French on her father’s side but colonial Spanish on her mother’s, hence her given name, Carmelite. Their son Henri, who married my great-grandmother (a Franco-German Creole) at the end of the Civil War, gave her as a gift a copy of Victor Hugo’s Contemplations (in French), a book the family still possesses.

Some of the Spanish were in fact Hispano-Americans, but rather few came from Mexico or Central America. The Spanish chain of command passed from Madrid to Havana to New Orleans, and the sea routes stopped in Cuba as well. Thus there was a substantial movement of people to New Orleans from that island. Though as a consequence of Latin-American political upheavals various political refugees settled either permanently or for a time in New Orleans (for instance, Benito Juarez made his living here for a time as a cigar-maker), it was not until the age of aviation that large numbers of Hondurans and Guatemalans began to move here, drawn by a favorable labor market, poverty at home, cheap fares (New Orleans is closer to Honduras than to Chicago) and political uncertainty.

Vietnam.jpg Vietnamese: One of the largest concentrated communities of Vietnamese Americans lived in New Orleans East prior to Hurricane Katrina. About 20,000-25,000 people of Vietnamese origin lived in the overall New Orleans metropolitan area, including the “West Bank” of the Mississippi River, in the suburbs of Algiers and Gretna. Large numbers of Vietnamese found their way to New Orleans following the fall of South Vietnam in 1975; many, in fact, have their roots in three Vietnamese villages. Members of the older generation continue to speak Vietnamese rather than English, as well as using some French. The public library branch in New Orleans East used to stock titles in Vietnamese.

In addition to small business owners, many Vietnamese New Orleanians work as fishers, shrimpers, boaters, and, especially in the second generation, professionals. Clusters of small businesses display Vietnamese signs. Characteristic vegetables are grown along the slopes of drainage canals, then brought to the Saturday open-air market, sold in Asian grocery stores, or served in restaurants. Area institutions include Vietnamese churches as well as Vietnamese Buddhist temples. Among the local activities are the New Year Dragon Dance, the mid-autumn festival Tet Trung Thu, and — this being New Orleans — music recording.

The members of this group were among the first New Orleans East residents to return to this devastated area following Katrina and to begin rebuilding. As of May 2006, 45 of 50 Vietnamese-owned businesses in the Village de l’Est neighborhood (also known as Versailles), around Mary Queen of Vietnam Church had managed to re-open. This cohesion has been reinforced by the Vietnamese churches, in addition to being sustained by the prior experience of fleeing as refugees, then starting over. The neighborhood association is actively planning and designing a Vietnam Town that would visibly highlight its presence and potentially attract visitors, while providing services to community members of all ages.


Of other Far Eastern peoples, only the Vietnamese are here in substantial numbers. The reason for their presence is evident. The U.S. government brought them to America as refugees from the communists, and they gravitated to south. Louisiana because of the sub-tropical climate, the fishing, and the French-Catholic presence. Most of the Vietnamese who have settled in West Jefferson and in the Versailles section of East New Orleans are Catholics. They have their own churches under the auspices of the New Orleans diocese; a number of them were already priests when they arrived. These churches practice many folk-customs not found in the Roman Church. Vietnamese have started some businesses such as groceries and restaurants, and found employment in all sorts of retail stores. They seem determined to provide for the higher education of their young people, and show an industry an ability to help themselves reminiscent of the first wave of Cuban refugees from Castro. It is too early to forecast just what will be the result of the increased wealth and position of the Vietnamese in a decade or two. One might guess that they will not remain as aloof as the Chinese have.

Yugoslav.jpg Yugoslav: The Yugoslav community of New Orleans and Plaquemines Parish is prosperous today because they began the cultivation of the Louisiana oyster, until then gathered in its wild state. They developed here techniques they already employed at home in the Adriatic, so that today the harvesting and merchandising of the much-loved local oyster is chiefly in the hands of these Dalmatians. They also developed greatly the orange culture of Plaquemines and made orange wine a well-known local delicacy. Like the Greeks, many liked to bring over wives from the homeland, and relatives as well, so that the colony has been ethnically replenished as the years go by. Today a large percentage of our Yugoslavs have made their mark in the professions. They generally retain their Catholic affiliation, and many refer to themselves as Austrians, because of their citizenship when they migrated (most of the “Austrians” in the 1970 Census of Louisiana are really Dalmatians); in the nineteenth century they were more generally called Slavonians .In recent years this group has become very successful in popularizing its native cuisine, or in adapting its cooking to the seafood tastes of creolized New Orleanians. Nowadays, one can detect a strong tendency among the Yugoslavs to intermarry with the rest of the population, rather like the Italians.

Nationalities of the Big Easy

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