So much more than Beignets and Bourbon Street, New Orleans is a multinational, multicultural hub in the United States. Called “the northernmost Caribbean city,” by some — Mardi Gras and crawfish may make it iconic, but as our newest columnist illustrates — the city’s culture pumps life blood to those who call it home.
In “Bella’s Front Porch,” New Orleans native Dr. Paulette Bethel draws from her polycultural background and life raising a uniquely global multicultural family to inform this new column on the diversity of conversations around race, culture and identity. “Bella’s Front Porch” is cultural wisdom from the comfort of Grandma’s veranda.
I originally hail from New Orleans, La., U.S.A., a culture that is uniquely unlike any other place anywhere in the U.S. As a global citizen who has lived and worked in many interesting destinations around the world, I intimately recognize why my hometown has a worldwide appeal that attracts millions of people to its streets every year.
I absolutely love travel, cultural exploration and visiting new places. I would rank my hometown as one of the most interesting.
For starters, the evolution of the city evolved from the influences of many cultures with the arrival of European explorers, enslaved people of African descent and Free People of Color, early immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean, Asians and the many Native American nations that ALREADY inhabited this space. It offers great food, interesting architecture, major contributions to the creation of jazz and a vibrant art scene that reflects the influences of its many cultures over its 300-year history.
According to the New Orleans Insiders Blog, understanding the hybrid cultural roots of New Orleans, both the French and the Spanish who ruled the city before the United States bought it, along with the forced settlement of slaves from Africa and the West Indies, sheds a light on the origins of the color, vibrancy, style and the “attitude all its own” that the city is known for.
It’s a city of festivals, of freewheeling fun, of go-cups poured in the bars where cocktails were invented. It’s a place where pirates and ghosts have free rein, where cemeteries are above-ground, cities of the dead and Voodoo has its own royal queen.
Here, Carnival stretches for weeks, gumbo and crawfish recipes are family heirlooms and neighborhood pride is touted in all corners of the Big Easy.
I recently journeyed home to visit family — old and new. I also spent time with longtime friends from my old neighborhoods, many of whom are still close friends of my deeply rooted family. In the early evening of my first day of the visit, I stood outdoors on the small front porch of the home of one of my family members, found in one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city.
As I looked around, I took note of the Catholic Church sitting majestically in the background about one block away. It was the church where my large family gathered to witness my christening as a small infant many decades earlier. I was also struck by the “old world charm” friendliness of people walking on the street, who were saying hello with a smile or stopped and chatted for a moment, as they passed me. It was all reminiscent of the neighborliness and conviviality that I still vividly recall about growing up here.
I was also struck by the ‘old world charm’ friendliness of people walking on the street.
Standing there on that little porch called to mind many endearing childhood memories of being in this neighborhood before moving to a suburban area outside the city center. I still miss those comfortable, friendly, easy ways of interacting and connecting with others.
As I continued to enjoy my memories and basking in the blush rose and gold sunset with painted clouds that softly glowed behinds the neighborhood homes, I briefly recalled my last visit a year earlier and enjoying the celebratory revelry of a ragtag group of second liners moving along the streets behind a legendary brass band, waving handkerchiefs and exuberantly joined the second line, as is the custom here. Oh, how I loved joining in, as I strutted joyously and rhythmically to the unique brass instrument and polyrhythmic drumming sounds.
The Second Line style is a tradition of dance that is part of the cultural heritage of the city. It is foundationally and quintessentially from the Black culture of New Orleans and has roots stemming from performative influences that enslaved people from West Africa and the Caribbean brought with them — traditions that will forever dwell in my soul. What a nice way to end the first day of my visit.