Katrina Stirs the Gumbo Pot: The Reception of Post-Katrina Latino Immigrants in New Orleans

Awarded Scholars:
Elizabeth Fussell, Washington State University
Project Date:
Nov 2008
Award Amount:
Project Programs:

Hurricane Katrina irrevocably changed the face of New Orleans. In addition to the physical devastation, 50 percent of the population was either temporarily or permanently displaced. The combination of population flight and the intense rebuilding process has triggered an urgent demand for labor and an unprecedented influx of Latino immigrants. These changes have drastically altered the racial and ethnic composition of the city. Blacks, who once constituted 67 percent of the population, now comprise 47 percent, while the Latino population jumped from 3 percent to at least 10 percent. Although a large body of research has emerged on how the physical destruction caused by Katrina reshaped the lives of the city’s inhabitants, little is known about how the intense, rapid reshuffling of the city’s ethnic composition has impacted both long-term and new residents. 

Elizabeth Fussell will examine how Latino immigrant incorporation in New Orleans is changing local constructions of race and ethnicity. Fussell will build on the research that she has been conducting in New Orleans since 2006, which revealed that the first wave of Latino immigrants after Hurricane Katrina were largely undocumented, unaccompanied young men. More recently, however, the flow has changed to include more skilled immigrants who are settling into stable living arrangements and are often accompanied by family. In order to understand the reception of both the early and recent Latino immigrants, Fussell will show how immigrants from Brazil, Mexico, Honduras, and Nicaragua have been affected by three factors:  policies governing admission and treatment, labor market conditions, and the presence in New Orleans of local communities from immigrants' countries of origin.


The pre-Katrina black population and new Latino immigrants in New Orleans have experienced little tension so far. As in other cities, however, this relationship may change as the city transitions out of emergency recovery mode and Latinos become part of the ongoing labor force. Fussell will gather data to test the thesis that Latinos distance themselves from blacks to improve their own social status, and the competing idea that they will become racialized and viewed as a minority racial group, as opposed to an ethnic group which overlaps with race. Fussell will employ multiple methods of data collection, from archival research and survey analysis to in-depth qualitative interviews. She has acquired access to the Louisiana Public Health Institute Surveys (2006), Current Population Surveys (2005-06), American Community Surveys (2006-08), and a commercial dataset of New Orleans households, all of which she will use to create a more complete picture of the Latino population in New Orleans over time.


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