Magazine article Newsweek

A New Spice in the Gumbo; Will Latino Day Laborers Locating in New Orleans Change Its Complexion?

Magazine article Newsweek

A New Spice in the Gumbo; Will Latino Day Laborers Locating in New Orleans Change Its Complexion?

Article excerpt

Byline: Arian Campo-Flores (With T. Trent Gegax)

Only one day after Hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast, Tranquilino Jimenez already had a job offer. An undocumented immigrant from Mexico, he set off from his home in Mobile, Ala., to join a convoy of 80 other workers hired to rip out soggy carpets and tear down Sheetrock from Biloxi, Miss., to Port Arthur, Texas. He eventually settled in New Orleans, where he's cleaning up schools in St. Bernard Parish, east of the city. Earning $12 per hour, Jimenez, 40, works 10 hours a day, seven days a week, retiring at night to a dingy motel room crammed with four other Latino laborers. Asked how long he plans to stay in New Orleans, he replies, "As long as there's work."

Jimenez is one of thousands of Hispanics--both legal residents from other states and freshly arrived illegal immigrants from south of the border--who have rushed to New Orleans to take reconstruction jobs. They're prompting calls for a crackdown on undocumented workers--appeals echoed in cities nationwide that are wrestling with the day-laborer issue. If enough settle permanently, they will fundamentally remake the city's demographic and cultural landscape. Before Katrina, according to the 2000 Census, New Orleans was just 3 percent Hispanic and 67 percent African-American. After evacuating en masse, however, many blacks may have left for good. According to one survey of emergency shelters in Houston, 44 percent of respondents, who were almost uniformly black, had no plans to return. The potential outcome of these dual migrations: a much more Latin New Orleans. "This is a future San Antonio, Texas," says Scarlett Alaniz-Diaz, Hispanic liaison for the nearby city of Kenner.

The Latino influx has rankled many longtime residents, who say the arrivals have depressed wages in some sectors. …

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