I remember when Hurricane Katrina hit the United States. Since I was outside the U.S., I wasn’t really paying attention to the American news, so it wasn’t until a few days after the city of New Orleans was under water did I realize what was occurring. At that time, the conversation focused on racism, poverty, government inaction, and rising death tolls.
Today, the conversation on the effects of Hurricane Katrina still centers those issues, however I notice that displaced Latinos were rarely discussed (in addition to many other ethnicities). The lens of who was affected had yet to include us except for a few special stories. It is for this reason that I wished there were more people in attendance for the Dos Americas: The Reconstructing of New Orleans showing at the New York International Latino Film Festival (NYILFF).
With less than 30 people in the theatre, we watched one of the only films I attended that offered Spanish to English and English to Spanish translations. Most of the films only offered Spanish to English translations, which excluded people who do not speak or read English. I knew instantly Dos Americas was a thoughtful film that centered Latinos and sought to challenge stereotypes and reach all of us as a community.
Centering the experiences of Latino immigrant workers who have been hired to assist with the “restructuring” of New Orleans, Dos Americas offers insight and testimonies from people who are often silenced and ignored. Themes examined include how undocumented Latino workers are lawfully and unlawfully employed by contractors, work hazards, lack of health services, homelessness among workers, protocol for finding work, challenges for activists seeking to assist workers, interracial tensions regarding work and ethnicity, police harassment and brutality, and differences in the work offered to Latinos based on gender.
There are some unbelievable things going on in New Orleans that are masked as part of the “restructuring” efforts. I was surprised to hear that there are close to 100,000 Latino migrant workers in New Orleans because I expected that this number would be significant enough to have national attention granted to the community and their efforts.
One thing is clear from Dos Americas: New Orleans will never be the same again. That is not just because of Hurricane Katrina, but also because the ethnic and racial demographics of the community are changing as well. Let’s hope that the restructuring efforts will include some level of ethnic and racial justice for all of New Orleans’ residents, those who come home and those who find a new home in the city.