New Orleans and Mardi Gras

I have only lived in a couple of places that are famous for some things but not as interesting as other places like I have read about New Orleans. It is not unheard of that New Orleans in Louisiana is a popular vacation spot with friends but there are several cultural ideas that people, including myself, do not know about. New Orleans’ culture is based on their historical timeline, traditions, major contributions, institutions, education, and communication. New Orleans first started out as French-known, La Nouvelle-Orleans.

The French found the city along the bank of the Mississippi River. It was founded in 1718 by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville in honor of Louis XIV’s nephew, Philippe II, Duc d’ Orleans. The French Quarter as people now know has evolved from what was known as Vieux Carre which means, “Old Square”. In the 1730s, “Fat Tuesday” also known as Mardi Gras was an established Christian holiday that held pagan spring fertility rituals.

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This was different from Mardi Gras as we know it now filled with parades. New Orleans was a vital source for trading and marketing within Spanish countries such as Cuba, Haiti, and Mexico.

In 1763, Spain gained control of New Orleans once the Treaty of Paris was signed. Spain was known as having a view of a class of free people of color. A candle sparked one of the worst fires claiming it to be the Great Fire of 1788 on Good Friday. The fire destroyed 856 of 1,100 buildings which was most of French architecture.

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The reconstruction of the French Quarter was built in a Spanish style with streetscapes with arches and Arabesque ironwork. The Spanish surrendered Louisiana back to France in 1800 which led New Orleans to be sold as part of the $15 million Louisiana Purchase by 1803. During the first half of the 1800s, the free black community prospered but thousands of slaves were sold in its markets. Although New Orleans was sold, residents continued their language, their loyalty to opera and customs to cuisine. The French and Creoles socially rejected the Americans that eventually migrated to New Orleans, so they made their own neighborhoods in a now Warehouse, Central Business, Uptown, and Garden District. After the Civil War took place, there was racial pressure and poverty. An Irish immigrant’s bakery who helped hungry families with bread who people can now see as a statue.

New Orleans in the 20th century prospered with streetcars, jazz clubs, and diversity. The city welcomed travelers which consisted of many artists and writers like Sherwood Anderson. After World War II, there were increasing school integration conflicts that drove white residents out and left African Americans poor. Even after many social changes, New Orleans thrived and became a tourist attraction. People are now usually drawn to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and for their festive culture. New Orleans is an extremely traditional place that does not stray from their customs. The essence of New Orleans’ music is jazz. Some call it the birth place of jazz which developed over time from a mix of different artists and different cultures. There are musically famous figures like Louis Armstrong who had claimed to have been affected by Mardi Gras Indian music, an influencer. In the 1880s, brass bands were popular alongside piano compositions like ragtime. Jazz is still a frequent part of New Orleans culture and still do jazz funerals or second lines.

Second lines consist of a main line of the brass band and the second line is everyone else. It is played during happy occasions like weddings, but it also celebrates the deceased calling it more so of a jazz funeral. The jazz funeral starts at the church with sad music played by the brass band and turns to celebratory music as they lead to the cemetery. Usually jazz funerals are for well-known community members or heavy contributed musicians. Traditional food consists of a lot of Cajun dishes like Jambalaya, Gumbo, Po’boys with a day contributing to red beans and rice served on Mondays. In the past, Mondays were a “laundry day” to housewives and did not have time to cook. They made a quick dish with kidney beans adding spices and vegetables on top of a bed of rice. The tradition of red beans and rice still lives to this day. Of course, a long-lived tradition is the festival, Mardi Gras. It first established as a Christian holiday and became a celebration after the war. Today, Mardi Gras consists of parades, concerns, and street parties. When people join the parades, they can see creativity in costumes and traditional Mardi Gras Indians.

Mardi Gras Indians date back to the 1800s and are known for helping to hide the runaway slaves as Native Americans. Being one of the most popular tourist areas and historical cultural landmarks, New Orleans has made significant contributions to the city, state, and nation. New Orleans has contributed cultural influence on its city and cultural diversity throughout the nation. One of its greatest contributions is to art. New Orleans has the oldest opera house in America also known as America’s First City of Opera. There are over 40 museums in New Orleans consisting of art, animals, and museums for children. Its contribution to Creole culture is widespread and is known to house its cuisine. New Orleans contributes to America having one of the most important ports. They have a naval base, the world’s first World Trade Center and major shipbuilding facilities. The state of Louisiana contributes its natural resources like petroleum and is second in production of the nation’s natural gas. In the 1800s, New Orleans housed institutions that were called benevolent societies who performed charitable works, helped cover funeral and healthcare costs and hosted social events. This has grown to social aid and pleasure clubs now. As a well-known community member, members of social aids who die have jazz funerals and are celebrated as they lie to rest.

There are nearly 70 different social aid and pleasure clubs. They do not do all that social aids usually once did but are a big influence on cultural pride and are responsible for unifying communities. New Orleans is home to one of the oldest Catholic cathedral, Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis King of France and is settled as a Catholic City. There are Islamic Mosques, Hindu Shrines, Jewish Synagogues, and Voodoo temples. Voodoo is well-known in the city of New Orleans. It was brought through slaves in the 1700s and coincided with Catholicism. People who know of the story will tell about Marie Laveau who infused Catholicism and Voodoo. She was known as a good person, taking in orphans, visiting prisoners, and nursing yellow-fever patients back to health. Today, people can still find talismans (good luck), gris-gris dolls (magic charms), and potions around the city. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, New Orleans was residentially integrated. Black and Whites had to live next to each other because it was necessary but within schools, they were segregated. In the 20th century, the school board would put white schools in areas that have not yet been developed while they had the black population in schools in the oldest, abandoned neighborhoods. White residents would violently oppose the location of black schools that were any close to their homes.

Economically, white people benefited from segregating schools. The schools that surrounded houses increased in property value whilst the black neighborhoods decreased in property value. Ruby Bridges is still an infamous story in New Orleans educational history. In 1960, 6-year-old Ruby Bridges walked into William J. Frantz Elementary School even though in the state of Louisiana, they tried to stop all black students from enrolling in all-white schools.

The Brown v. Board of Education was a decision that mandated desegregation of public schools, thus, the day she walked in that school was the day it was completely legal. Education in New Orleans now is much different since the passing of Hurricane Katrina. Charter schools were opened to replace traditional schools and is the preferred education. Charter schools are more intensive-test based and since Katrina, schools have seen substantial academic improvements and standardized test scores have risen by 60 percent. As far as literacy rates, adult illiteracy is twice the national average. New Orleans’ illiteracy rates are 25 percent. 16 percent of that are adults that lack a high school diploma and the rest live below the poverty line. In early New Orleans, they communicated through Louisiana Creole French that was created by descendants of African slaves. This was one of many languages spoken throughout New Orleans because of the various cultures like French, German, African, Spanish and more. French as one language was very prominent as well. Today, there are still many speakers of Louisiana Creole French and interpreters are well needed for older patients in healthcare facilities. Nonverbal communication consists of music, art, and food.

The music within New Orleans is celebratory and communicates with its culture with fun and excitement. They also communicate nonverbally through architecture, and history in museums like the Spanish-style buildings and the voodoo items. They lastly communicate through their food like the traditional Mardi Gras King cake. The cake is basically a cinnamon bun like cake with cream cheese filling and colors like green, purple, and gold to signify good luck. Inside, is a baby Jesus that is randomly served to one person and it claims that the person who has it will have a baby. In conclusion, New Orleans is a fascinating culture to learn about with so many traditions and customs. Whomever has grown up there has a story to tell and is bound to carry on lasting cultural marks. New Orleans is much different from my own culture, but it has made me appreciate cultures that contrast from mine. It was interesting to learn about how this city came about and how many people have passed customs down generation to generation.

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New Orleans and Mardi Gras. (2021, Oct 12). Retrieved from

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