Our VIDA Writers
The writers featured in this debut cyber incarnation of VIDA In New Orleans are exemplary of the diversity of our city, and thematically, they each refute the brutal cultural deportation of our Latin immigrant community exacted by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities (LEH), a state arts agency, in their Tricentennial anthology titled New Orleans & the World.
While the LEH and its editor have been celebrated to no end, no one has dared to question why they have disappeared our Latin American people in their so-called scholarly chronicle of New Orleans history--especially in the post-Katrina chapter titled "Renewal".
Thus, the local New Orleans mainstream media has exhibited a lack of courage to challenge the LEH's cultural crime of disappearing our Latin American community and our immigrant reconstruction workers, who have given of their sweat, labor, and love to the rebirth of our city. Unless, you have been living under a rock for the past thirteen years plus, it is common knowledge that the physical rebuilding of New Orleans post-Katrina owes much to our Latin American immigrant community, but in many ways, it still remains the dirties little secret of the reconstruction that hides in plain site.
VIDA In New Orleans was launched as an act of resistance to the cultural cleansing that the LEH has exacted in a book where we have been rendered invisible--not just our recent immigrant community, but our long Latin legacy. This legacy is exemplified in contributions to the expansive music scene with connections to Cuba, the visual arts with its Caribbean influences, and cultural influences of a port city where life resembles that of the fictional "Macondo" in Garcia Marquez's epic One Hundred Years of Solitude.
We are the northern most point of the Caribbean, and it's the only city in the U.S. where "red beans and rice" are a historic staple--much like the Latin food combination I grew up with. Yet, with such a rich extensive Latin history, we are nowhere to be found in the LEH's anthology, and I can only imagine that, we, Latin Americans, who are the fastest growing community of New Orleans, are as invisible to the mainstream media as the LEH has rendered us.
For five years from 2006 to 2011, I contributed such commentaries to NPR's Latino USA, and most radio pieces were recorded at the WWNO NPR Studios at the University of New Orleans. Maria Hinojosa, the award-winning journalist and program host, often introduced my commentaries. I explored the many challenges our people endured in the immediate years of the reconstruction, and the myriad human rights violations workers experienced such as rampant wage theft; random police brutality; and inhumane raids by ICE Agents exacting deportations of the same people literally rebuilding New Orleans.
For the 5th anniversary of the storm back in 2010, I actually contributed a commentary heard nationwide that was titled Los Invisibles / The Invisible Ones to NPR's Latino USA.
This NPR piece was inspired by direct interviews with members of the Congress of Day Laborers / El Congreso de Jornaleros. One member, named Mario and veteran member of Congreso, spoke directly about the wage theft he and a dozen men experienced when contractors threatened to call Immigration Agents instead of paying the promised pay. He recalled an incident where the reconstruction work was completed at a French Quarter Hotel, and the manager / contractor refused to pay them.
The hotel manager threatened to call security and Immigration Agents, if they persisted in "harassing" him for their rightful earned wages. This was a common scenario and brutal practice by greedy and ruthless local and national contractors that deliberately cheated an immigrant work force--simply because they could.
Welcome to the new Slave Labor Fiesta of a port city that rose to riches because of its barbaric legacy of labor exploitation of African American slaves, and such practices continued through Jim Crow and well into the 20th century. Not that our immigrant people were enchained, but they became a new "Brown" vulnerable work force to abuse. Most workers spoke little to no English to contest these abuses, and their undocumented status forced many into silence to accept such violations.
With no pay for the arduous two weeks of work, Mario was left with no money to pay for his rent or buy food for his family and three children. He was left homeless. Another younger worker in his early twenties spoke of the horrendous working conditions, and in one accident, his left hand was crushed and sliced in half after a dumpster, weighing a tonnage, slipped. The contractor did not bother to call for any medical support.
Our immigrant workers have been ubiquitous on construction sites across New Orleans, but they were simultaneously rendered invisible, as if in a sci-fi reality, because the suffering our community endured was totally ignored by the "city that care forgot" and a plantation system willing to exploit their labor to no end.
Maybe such narratives are too much truth for the LEH to consider publishing because it would tarnish their high-end tourist-brochure of a book priced at $60. Certainly, I would not fork over such an amount for "white lies" on glossy paper, but I would not be surprised if it's Executive Editor, members of their board, and even the LEH's Executive Director engaged immigrant workers to have their homes and cultural institutions rebuilt. I would hope they had the decency to pay them, instead of calling ICE Agents to have them deported. After all, they have already deported us from history.
During this era of rampant anti-immigrant hysteria, the LEH has disappeared our Latin American people, and it's akin to the cultural cleansing that the outgoing ruthless administration has promoted in its four-year nightmare, as it dehumanizes all of our communities and has rendered immigrants "enemies of the state".
Even more troubling is the LEH's denial as it refuses to own up to its cultural crimes against us, and its cabal of white scholars continue to bury their heads in the moist swamp terrain that defines our landscape--acting as untouchables in the ivory tower of their offices on Lafayette Street.
Not only have they ignored my holding them accountable, but its ED has actually engaged in having me silenced. She reached out to the Foundation for Louisiana (FFL) to say, “I was harassing the LEH”.
Imagine that! Me, a brown immigrant activist performance artist and writer, willing to challenge one of the most heralded arts organization in our New Orleans cultural landscape "harassing" them. I have simply dared to hold them accountable for their egregious disappearance of our immigrant people in a book that will live another three hundred years as the official chronicle of our city's history.
I am doing my job as artist, and speaking truth to perverse abuse of power by the LEH. The Foundation for Louisiana funded our initial launch for this VIDA in New Orleans cultural platform, one that empowers our Latin American voices.
We are driving our own narratives without the plantation permission of the LEH. Maybe, that is what truly scares the LEH and its white gatekeepers because we offer our alternative narratives that exposes their disappearance of our people in failure of a history book is sold as the "official story" of New Orleans.
I'm grateful for the steadfast support of the Foundation for Louisiana and their leadership for not waning to such corrupt demands from so-called progressives who look to shut down narratives of color that oppose their white-washing of history.
I'm grateful to the Ashé Cultural Arts Center and to Carol Bebelle, who has guided me in this process and has been super supportive of this platform. Ashé hosted our VIDA Live Art Launch event in February 2019, and the Contemporary Arts Center hosted another VIDA Live event in April 2019.
Our VIDA writers, poets, and scholars are telling our truth, and we are Dominican, Mexican, Nicaraguan, Peruvian, and myself an Ecuadorian-born immigrant. We are the people that can best tell our story.
Each one of our writers contests the LEH for their rendering us invisible, so of course, it’s premiere plantation general wanted to diminish my efforts of holding them accountable and silence our voices, as we expose their “white lies” in cyber space! SI SE PUEDE!
Maybe, the LEH will only wake up and own up to their mistake once the national media knocks on their hallowed doors to question why we, immigrants who have given our blood to the rebirth of New Orleans, have been disappeared as the invisible brown help that did not merit inclusion in their sacred anthology.
Our VIDA writers are here to challenge this cultural crime committed against our Latin community by the LEH. We will not be disappeared, and we will drive our own stories and rightfully chronicle our Latin legacy.
I bring you these brilliant perspectives from our truly diverse writers, poets, and scholars that are vital to our VIDA, our life, in New Orleans.
Ashé y Adelante
Gabrielle Garcia-Steib has written of her Nicaraguan heritage and family that fled Nicaragua because of political persecution, similar to what we are seeing today at the border with Mexico. Her bilingual piece also speaks to the exile of Benito Juarez and his revolutionary comrades who lived in New Orleans in the mid 1800s, and the statue that the Mexican government gave to the city to honor the first ever Mestizo and indigenous president of Mexico. She urges us to decolonize New Orleans and that our people have a long Latin legacy here--even while there are always forces trying to disappear us.
Rosa Gomez-Herrin writes about the Emerging Barrions of the metro New Orleans area that has seen expansive growth of our Latin American communities in the thirteen years post-Katrina, and the neighborhoods that already had been occupied by our Honduran people and communities in the suburbs of Metairie and Kenner. She, too, disputes the fact that our people are continuously having to contest systems that ignore us and even look to write us out of local history. Her article is complete with maps of our people's growth, and is part of a three-part series that VIDA will publish. It, too, is a bilingual article, and Rosa offers us a perspective from a Peruvian-born scholar working on her Ph.D.
Lila Arnaud speaks to the health issues of a scholar and woman of color who was born in the Dominican Republic, and the racial polemics she has had to endure in health organizations that have not been the healthiest for her spiritual, physical, and mental growth. She rightfully speaks of resistance within such institutions that are rife with racial divisions and indifferent to the plight of women of color. Her honesty in scripting this article is an act of healing within itself, and she speaks to us from her heart.
Linett Luna Tovar, our featured poet, offers us a bilingual and Spanglish piece that honors our women, and the dehumanization our immigrant mothers endure in a country that continuously curses and vilifies her as the "illegal alien" while readily abusing her labor. Linnett, born in Mexico, speaks to us with her poetic tongue and her words mirror those of a young Gloria Anzaldua with the fire of a DREAMER and the conviction of a socially conscious wordsmith.
Marlon Torres, a Chicano born in California and who works with the Southern Poverty Law Center in New Orleans, speaks to us with the brutal honesty of a son that knows the familial struggles of immigrant parents, and what they endure and sacrifices they make daily to offer a better life for their children on this side of the border. His is a heroic portrait of a mother and father working arduously to have their children dream the highest dreams possible, and it is in stark contrast to the vile depictions that our immigrant mothers and father face under this administration.
Rafael Delgadillo, born in New Orleans to proud Dominican parents with a long legacy in Marrero and across the West Bank, informs us that what the LEH is doing in disappearing us in their myopic version of history is nothing new. Other writers passing themselves off as scholars have done the same, and have even denied our existence here while engaged in writing us out of our well-deserved history. His article is also part of a three-part series that VIDA is proud to publish.
Gabrielle Garcia-Steib is a multidisciplinary artist and educator who was born in New Orleans in 1994 and frequents Managua, Nicaragua. Growing up in a mixed family of a Latina mother and a White Southern father, she began noticing the racial and class barriers between these two sides at a young age.
She practiced writing and photography in high school as forms of storytelling at NOCCA, and continued to study it in college at Loyola University of New Orleans, where she graduated with a B.A. in English and Digital Media in 2017. Since 2012, she has studied under many local artists including Michel Varisco and Marian McLellan, and Victoria Ryan.
Being born into a lineage of artists, her maternal Nicaraguan and Mexican side is compiled of women and men who have been influential in their native countries as they were in New Orleans. Her great-grandfather was a distinguished Nicaraguan poet and professor who opened his home for language classes, and her great-grandmother worked in thread and needlework--eventually creating gowns for Mardi Gras balls after fleeing the Somoza dictatorship of Nicaragua.
Her grandfather was a painter who dropped out of Tulane Medical School, and her grandmother and mother both practiced photography as a hobby. Through this endeavor, they have created a colossal archive that traces back decades and captures the immigrant experience in New Orleans. Based on this precedent, Gabrielle blends various mediums such as archiving, painting, documentary photography, and audio as forms of healing and communication.
She has been featured in group exhibitions including “Constructing the Break” at the Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans, which debuted on White Linen Night in August 2018. She has also exhibited work at the annual PhotoNola festival for the past three years. Her most recent projects include a fellowship with Our Voice / Nuestra Voz, where she has been trained in racial equity, and developed culturally sustainable strategies for English Language Learners who she works with.
Most recently, she has co-taught two narrative workshops through collaboration with NOMA, one of which was at a homeless center in New Orleans, and the other was primarily with a group of undocumented immigrants where photography and art were used to provide a platform for story-telling.
Rosa is a scholar, community advocate, writer and strategist from the Global South. She was born and raised in Lima, Perú, and has spent the last 16 years living in the U.S. Deep South. Her personal, academic and professional experiences in the United States and abroad are rooted in a life-long commitment to social and racial justice. Rosa is completing her research to obtain a PhD in Urban Studies at the University of New Orleans in 2019, focusing on how Latinxs’ ethnic and racial identities are socially constructed and intrinsically tied to cultural manifestations that are (re)shaping the built environment in the New Orleans metro and beyond.
Rosa es académica, defensora de la comunidad, escritora y estratega del Sur Global. Nació y creció en Lima, Perú, y ha pasado los últimos 16 años viviendo en el Sur de los EE. UU. Sus experiencias personales, académicas y profesionales en los Estados Unidos y en el extranjero se basan en un compromiso de por vida con la justicia social y racial. Rosa está completando su investigación para obtener un doctorado en estudios urbanos en la Universidad de Nueva Orleans en 2019, centrándose en cómo las identidades étnicas y raciales de los latinxs se construyen socialmente y se vinculan intrínsecamente a manifestaciones culturales que están (re) configurando el entorno construido en el área metropolitana de Nueva Orleans y más allá.
Saludos! I am Lila. I identify with many things, but in essence I am Spirit living a human experience. I have devoted my life’s work to reproductive and sexual health education and justice. Based in New Orleans, I work as an educator, writer, doula, and bodyworker.
Originally from the Dominican Republic and raised in Miami, my life’s journey, like yours, has crossed many roads. I spend a lot of time thinking about a) how did I end up here?, and b) what was my motivation for the decisions I’ve made along the way.
Ever since I could remember, I’ve been in deep self-exploration. I travel the curves of my universe and imagine the spaces that I will stretch into. I am a dreamer, a futurist, a non-conformist--using my imagination as a tool for resisting the dominant “normal” and applying lessons learned about my unique truths to my health practice.
About my style: Personalized story telling. Mind Mapping. Free flowing Mixed Media and Language use. Non-traditional. Poetic. Fantastical. And (sparingly) comical. You can check out my musings at Travelingcurves.com and on the gram @ /lila.arnaud
Originally from Zacatecas, México, Linett is a San Gabriel Valley-based writer, performer, educator, and activist. Her work explores family, gender/sexuality, culture, [im]migration, education, and environmentalism, often with a healthy dose of humor. Linett has been featured in Twisted Vine Journal, Mt. SAC’s Left Coast Review, The Los Angeles Review, and Undeportable Productions media. She currently resides in New Orleans and is completing her MA in Latin American Studies.
Marlon Torres is a Senior Community Advocate at the Southern Poverty Law Center. He works on Criminal Justice Reform with a focus on crimmigration. Marlon grew up in Los Angeles, California, where he witnessed how immigration policies affected his undocumented family. His family migrated to a suburb outside of Seattle. He studied Law, Societies, and Justice at the University of Washington. Marlon volunteered at the King County Jail, where he was able to establish the first Spanish GED program to empower the incarcerated Latinx community. Marlon worked at The Defender Association as a public defense investigator, where he advocated for his clients in marginalized communities for nearly ten years. In 2016, he started a non-profit for kids with incarcerated parents. Marlon joined the SPLC in 2017 to broaden the focus of his work and continue carrying out his commitment to ending mass incarceration for both citizens and non-citizens.
Rafael Enrique Delgadillo is a doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the Latin American and Latino Studies Program. His research interests include the emergence, development, and political mobilization of Latino Communities in the Deep South region of the United States. In 2009, Delgadillo earned a master’s degree in History from the University of New Orleans. His research focused on the history of Hispanic communities in New Orleans in the late nineteenth century. Through an inquiry into bilingual and Spanish language newspaper of the era, the dissertation proved the transnational impacts that trade with and migration to and from Latin America contributed to New Orleans’ perception as an international city. Delgadillo has also worked as a community organizer and activist within the Latino community in New Orleans. It was in that line of work where Delgadillo learned the importance of cross-cultural and intersectional dialogue in order to precipitate change in the region.
Our VIDA LIVE Site Launch & Performance Reading
at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center on Saturday, February 9, 2019
included our VIDA Writers Collective & Musical Guests
José Fermin Ceballos and Roberto Carrillo & RAICES Andean Conjunto.
at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center on Saturday, February 9, 2019
included our VIDA Writers Collective & Musical Guests
José Fermin Ceballos and Roberto Carrillo & RAICES Andean Conjunto.