A Melting Pot

Multicultural tourism is a growth opportunity

By: Chere Coen

Gumbo is the unofficial signature dish of New Orleans cuisine and for good reason. Like the city’s inhabitants, gumbo represents New Orleans’ many cultures: rice for the Spanish, roux for the French, okra for the Africans and filé powder for the Native Americans.

A visit to the Crescent City would not be complete without a bowl of the Creole soup, and an immersion into the city’s equally varied cultures and traditions.


Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto discovered the Mississippi River, followed by two Canadian French brothers who named the surrounding territory for the King of France. Later, France would offer Louisiana to Spain for the Spanish role in the Seven Years War. At the turn of the 19th century, Spain gave the territory back to France, but only until the Americans purchased the massive area in 1803 and brought in their own unique styles and customs.

Throughout the state’s early history, slaves were imported from Africa through the Caribbean, some becoming French and Spanish speakers and learning Christian ways, but bringing their own blend of religion with them to their new home.

And let’s not forget the Native Americans who were there from the start.

The influence of these many cultures is visibly evident throughout New Orleans and southern Louisiana. The French Quarter, for one, largely represents the Spanish period after a devastating fire destroyed much of the original French city and the buildings were rebuilt by the Spaniards. Roman arches, cast-iron balconies and courtyards are all indicative of Spanish architecture, despite its French name.

The spices now famous in Louisiana cooking originated in Spain and Mexico, while the word Creole, which refers to the multicultural mix of races, derives from the Spanish word criollo, which means “born of the New World.”

African Americans brought their own traditions that merged with those of the New World, including unique foods, voodoo and jazz, America’s first indigenous music form. New Orleans boasts of one of the country’s oldest black neighborhoods and the birthplace of Dixieland.

Big Business

Selling multicultural tourism in the Big Easy is big business. There are several specialized tour groups that showcase the many cultures of New Orleans, including Africans in Louisiana Tours, which offers a history of slavery in the state. The three- and six-hour bus tours travel up the Mississippi River to plantations that highlight the contributions slaves made to the economy.

Leonard Moore, owner and operator of the tours and history professor at Louisiana State University, said the information he offers among traditional plantation tours is “something that’s been missing from the River Road for a long time.”

Several museums that spotlight the state’s ethnic history and culture include the Cannes Brûlée Native American Center in Kenner and the New Orleans African-American Museum of Art, Culture and History, to name two. The city’s government-sponsored museums offer exhibits on the contributions of ethnic groups, such as the history of jazz exhibit at the Louisiana State Museum, Old U.S. Mint.

For those looking to market multicultural tourism, there are many resources.

The New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation offers cultural resources at its comprehensive Web site, including the immigration of New Orleans’ 20th-century newcomers, the Italians and Vietnamese. In addition to a listing of multicultural tours, the site features several groups that offer multilingual tours, such as Le Monde Creole, whose French Quarter tours are offered in French.

The Louisiana Office of Tourism’s Web site offers detailed guides on both Hispanic and African-American tourism that includes history, landmarks, famous residents, tour guide operators, places to dine and much more.

Family Reunions

The New Orleans Multicultural Tourism Network, a non-profit “resource center ... relative to the diverse culture, heritage and business community of New Orleans,” helps plan and carry out family reunions, a burgeoning business for New Orleans.

The Travel Industry Association of America found that African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans cite visiting friends or relatives as the most common reason to travel. Add to that the fact that New Orleans has a zoo, aquarium, children’s museum and nature center, all ranked in the top 10 in the nation, and you have a great setting for a family reunion.

Summer and Christmas are ideal for reunions in New Orleans, said Laura Claverie, a spokeswoman for the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation.

“The hotel rates are the lowest and the activities, particularly during Christmas, are amazing,” she said, adding that the marketing corporation offers a “Good Times Guide” coupon book good at hotels, restaurants and attractions.

South Louisiana is also home to great genealogical resources, such as the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, “an independent manuscripts library dedicated to preserving African American and ethnic history and culture.”

The New Orleans Public Library houses a comprehensive section on the city’s ethnic genealogy, but the collection pertains mostly to South Louisiana ancestry. Items found on the shelves include military records for the 10th Regiment, U.S. Colored Artillery in New Orleans and Spanish government records.

Upcoming festivals that celebrate the state’s multicultural heritage include the 10th annual Essence Music Festival July 2-4, “the nation’s largest annual African-American event.”


Louisiana Office of Tourism www.louisianatravel.com

New Orleans Multicultural Tourism Network 800-725-5652 www.soulofneworleans.com

New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation www.neworleansonline.com