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 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
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
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
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.
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
“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
New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation