New Orleans has been a hub for Central American restaurant owners for more than two decades, with many of these establishments serving what is typically considered Mexican or Tex-Mex cuisine. In recent years, as opportunities have opened up in the city, thousands of people from Latin American countries, particularly those living in coastal communities, have migrated to the area. According to the mid-century decennial censuses, Hondurans were the main Latin American nationality in the metropolitan area, with many believing that the population of Hondurans in New Orleans was as high as 100,000. Pickled vegetables, which are usually only eaten on special occasions in many Latin American countries, are a daily side dish in Honduran restaurants. The Latin American Business and Development Initiative at the University of Southeastern Louisiana is headed by Aristides Baraya, a Honduran who is actively involved in the inns in the area. The music of northern Louisiana has been heavily influenced by Latin American culture.
It is believed to be based on Cuban són, which was further developed through Puerto Rican music and achieved international popularity in New York during the 1950s and 1960s. Norma's Sweets Bakery at 2925 Bienville Street in Mid-City New Orleans is one example of a business that opened after Hurricane Katrina to serve the growing Latino population in the area. The traditional fabric with straps on the back is rarely seen in the Latin American community in New Orleans today, with only a few people able to continue sewing traditional items such as intricate embroideries and baptismal gowns. Hundreds of Latinos have also come to New Orleans without any ties to the city, attracted by job opportunities in construction and services for the growing community. As a result, Spanish is now spoken at home and socially, with grocery stores catering to Latinos, churches offering mass in Spanish, and trips back to Honduras every year to visit family and friends. More than two years after Hurricane Katrina, it is clear that this new Latino population is here to stay.
Cities like Gretna and Kenner in Jefferson Parish now have at least four Latino grocery stores, several Latino restaurants and businesses advertising on Spanish Williams Boulevard. The influx of Latin Americans into northern Louisiana has had a profound impact on the culture of the region. From traditional foods to music and art, Latin American influences can be seen everywhere. The Latin American Business and Development Initiative at the University of Southeastern Louisiana has been instrumental in helping new immigrants find jobs and assimilate into their new home. Norma's Sweets Bakery is just one example of how Latin Americans are making their mark on northern Louisiana.
With more people coming from Latin America every year, it's clear that this cultural influence will only continue to grow.