Rebuilding New Orleans: A Story of Worker’s Rights

Hispanic Heritage Month

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) —Dia de la Raza is celebrated on the same day as Columbus Day, in many Latin American countries. Columbus Day commemorates the Spaniard’s arrival in the New World, while Dia de la Raza celebrates the native cultures already present in the New World.

The Garden of the America’s is a stretch of Basin Street in New Orleans, Louisiana. Three statues have stood since the 1950’s as a way to celebrate Hispanic heritage and contribution to the city of New Orleans.

On the week of Dia de la Raza and Columbus Day, 2021, several human rights activists gathered under the Benito Juárez statue to demand the rights of undocumented Latin X workers. Leading the charge was the non-profit organization Union Migrante; which wants to bring attention to a lack of resources for undocumented workers recovering from Hurricane Ida.

The city’s Hispanic population grew by the thousands after Hurricane Katrina, in response to a new supply of work rebuilding New Orleans with construction job opportunities. However, as many undocumented workers are steadfast in infrastructure recovery after the storm, they are also denied disaster assistance themselves.

Rachel Taber is a human rights volunteer at Union Migrante and says, “all across the United States, it’s a trend for who is first on the scene to help after storms and natural disasters. It’s immigrant laborers. We’ve seen this in Katrina, we saw this in Baton Rouge and Lafayette with flooding. You definitely saw this in Lake Charles. We are seeing this again after Hurricane Ida. New Orleans’ population in the 2020 census, the quantity of Latin X living in the city has gone up by a third. Currently, immigrant workers, even though they rebuilt this city and are a part of it, are excluded from FEMA.”

Ramon Peralta is originally from Nicaragua and has called New Orleans home and says, “I came to New Orleans right when the city was in the midst of its problems and needed a massive cleanup. Everything had been destroyed. Absolutely everything had been flooded and torn apart. Houses and businesses were all destroyed and completely ruined. We are not criminals. We’re essential workers. We’ve just come here to work. We’ve just come here to provide a better life for our families.”

Alfredo Salazar found his way to New Orleans after doing construction work in Alabama. Salazar remembers what it was like seeing New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and finding his first job among hundreds of people who traveled to New Orleans like him. He waited at a gas station and found work with a contractor.

“There was work everywhere. The city was in great need and we were ready to be part of the city. I helped to put the tarps on the roofs at the time we were paid high rates to do it. I love New Orleans and I while most people are friendly, it is disheartening to be mistreated when our hard work is what helps to make the city beautiful,” says Alfredo Salazar.

If you would like to learn more about Unión Migrante and help them in its mission of assisting undocumented migrant workers, click here.

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