SOUTH ASIANS IN THE BIG EASY
Interviews: Pooja Prazid | Artwork: Angeli Earley
In 2019, I moved to New Orleans, Louisiana from California, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. The South Asian community in Louisiana is comparatively very small. I expected that South Asians would feel isolated in the South. While some South Asians have dealt with isolation and hostility, I have also come across a strong emotional connection for the Southern way of life. In my experience, people who have never lived in the South often stereotype the South for being ‘backwards’ and ‘undeveloped’. However, many immigrants tell me they considered Louisiana their ‘second home’ and couldn’t imagine moving anywhere else. There are a lot of parallels between South Asian and Southern value systems and experiences - the importance of family and faith-based communities, a robust culture of hospitality, an excellent spice palette, a full calendar of festivities, and resilience and problem-solving in the face of climate disasters, and underfunded and/or corrupt public institutions. In these seven interviews, I was able to explore how South Asians in New Orleans and Southern Louisiana relate to their homes and communities, and how it ties to their own cultural identity.
“I actually remember the 1st second, massive second, line after hurricane Katrina. . . I just remember it was like joy and sadness like. . . that 1st second line was so beautiful and incredible. And it, to me that was a form of protest. It's like we're still here. [Expletive] you - give us the money to build the city again.”
“One of the things I do really appreciate in New Orleans which feels connected. . . our families are. . . a lot more comfortable talking about death and have so many more ceremonies or rituals or technologies so to speak around the circle of life and I remember. . . . where it was really about mourning someone who had passed and then celebrating the fact that they're they've gone on and celebrating the fact. . . we're still alive and just being welcomed into that moment. . . was when I like really knew like okay I'm I'm home I found my people.”
“I think people here are both very independent and community oriented. They are independent in the sense that they don’t depend on their government or authority to help - we’re going to get this done, we’re going to do this. They are very community oriented in the sense that we are going to get this done together.”
“The get togethers outside every day. . . I’d go to work and come back, and everyone would be sitting outside my drive way. Just that feeling of, everything is good because everyone is going through it [hurricane aftermath] at the same time. A lot of helping hands, people helping to move debris and trash out of the backyards. . . everyone was just helping each other out.”
“In New Orleans, [the Indian community] really had these new businesses that were right in that area, so my mom and her family friends were impacted a lot [by Hurricane Katrina]. Because their businesses were like ‘we have to figure out something else.’ And they were able to, which is amazing which speaks to their intelligence and interest in making the community better. . .”
“It looks like there is a larger integration of South Asian culture into Mardi Gras. . . this year there was a Mardi Gras krewe I heard of that is dedicated to bhangra music or South Asian culture in general.”
“She’s an American lady married to a South Indian man. He has since passed. But when I started doing my pop ups at the dive bar, she would come in. I heard there was a guy doing dosa here, so I came here, and she said it reminds of her husband and connects her that way and she has been supporting me ever since.”
Pooja Prazid (she/her) is a chemical engineer who works in manufacturing in Louisiana. She was born in Kochi, Kerala and moved to California at the age of three, splitting her childhood between Sunnyvale and Folsom. She studied chemical engineering at UC Berkeley before moving to Chalmette, right outside New Orleans. Her research project will focus on the South Asian American experience in southeast Louisiana. Her project will also explore South Asians feelings of connection and isolation to the South, with respect to Southern culture, history, and value systems compared and in conjunction with their ancestral connections. She also wants to collect stories on how South Asian Americans have contributed to and become involved in the greater New Orleans community.