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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/60vp-0j11

technical paper

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Honduran migrant pandemic experiences in New Orleans


united states



What happens when a major city is forced to shutter most of its businesses and social institutions twice in the space of fifteen years? One of the consequences of the 2005 federal floods that followed Hurricane Katrina was the closure of thousands of businesses, the cancellation of festivals and other events, and the danger of destruction of the communities and cultures that defined New Orleans. The 2005 disaster helped reveal many of the deeper structural inequalities that defined the city and challenged social scientists, cultural critics, policy makers, activists, and others to rethink the city’s character, economy, and future. New Orleans became, for some observers, a kind of experiment in rebuilding, while others saw it as a showcase for neoliberal policymaking and disaster capitalism. For some, the rebuilding and transformation of the city since 2005 has highlighted its distinctive culture, while others have noted the many ways in which New Orleans’ experience deepened the city’s ties with and resemblance to the rest of America. The papers in this panel examine the ways the history of disaster in New Orleans shapes the way people think and act in the context of this new crisis. There is a sense in the region that disasters are inevitable. Hurricanes are seasonal and the public is often reminded of the dangers posed to the environment and public health by the oil and chemical industries. Climate change has made the Mississippi River a regular threat and rising sea levels are displacing nearby coastal communities. Yet the COVID-19 shutdown took many in New Orleans by surprise. From evidence of the ongoing impact of structural racism to the fragility of the city’s tourism-based economy, New Orleans is again confronted with questions about what kind of place it is and will be. As if to highlight the city’s distinctive reputation, media critics initially blamed residents and policy makers for putatively ignoring the disease’s dangers during the 2020 Carnival season. Disproportionately high death rates among African Americans reflect deep histories of inequality in wealth and access to health care while threatening to renew a problematic racial framing of blame for vulnerabilities. Yet previous experiences of disaster provided both structural resources and cultural frameworks for making sense of this new disaster. The panel is situated at the intersection of structural inequities similar to other American communities and temporal, spatial, and cultural frameworks invoked to shape a potentially distinctive regional response. What happens to the city’s seasonal rhythms when the festivals that shape them disappear? How will cultural workers salvage livelihoods? How do clubs that organize parades pivot to provide social aid? How will restaurants, essential gathering places in the post-2005 period and fundamental to the city’s economy and culture, adapt to new regulations? How do coastal communities, long buffeted by environmental change, state neglect, and disaster, organize themselves in the face of a pandemic? What temporalities and cultural frameworks do immigrants draw on when confronted with this new threat? Is there a distinctive New Orleans way of framing the latest disaster?


Transcript English (automatic)

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