Friday, February 6, 2009

Let Me Explain Myself

In response to yesterday's blog, regular catankerous reader Darth Whitey asked me a good question.

How would I feel if all the beignets in New Orleans were replaced with churros.

Those of you who read my last post know that it dealt with a push by conservative Italians to limit how much "foreign" food can be sold in certain areas of Italy. Those conservatives argue that "foreign" food is a detriment to traditional Italian culture. In my post I called this push what I though it was, an attempt to use racism to control economics.

Anyway, there are a couple things that I wanted to address in Darth's comment. First, the random selection of the word "churros" reveals a lot. While it's clear that Latinos and Hispanics are the primary immigrants to this country, they are not the only immigrants to this country. He could have chosen any ethnic food to replace beignets and he focused on churros.

Plus, given the unique culture in New Orleans it would have made as much sense to ask me how I would feel if beignets were replaced by funnel cakes or doughnuts. One of the fears of many New Orleanians after Hurricane Katrina was that the city would get "Disney-fied," and have its distinctive culture santized and re-packaged for mass consumption. Using the word "churros" instead of "doughnuts" exposes a lot about what Darth thinks are acceptable and unacceptable replacements for New Orleans' distinct food.

But, I digress.

I really want to discuss something else. See, the reason why I wouldn't have a problem with churros in the French Quarter isn't because I'm so hip and anti-racist, it's because I honestly don't care that much about New Orleans culture.

Uh oh, I'm about to get strangled with a Mardi Gras bead.

I like the city. I grew up here. There are certain quirky habits that I find endearing. But, I do not have the love affair with New Orleans that many of its paler denizens seem to have. (Seriously, the white people who actually still live in the New Orleans city limits LOVE this place. The ones who don't move to the suburbs and talk greasy about the city. Black people love the city too, but it's a different kind of love.)

It's probably because my parents were transplants to the city and never truly embraced it. So, while I picked up some of the city's lore through osmoisis, I was never indoctrinated like most New Orleanians. It's kinda like I know the steps to a dance, but I don't feel the rhythm all the way down in my bones.

Consequently, I wouldn't be dismayed if New Orleans' culture was changed by immigrants. After all, the reason why we have this current culture is because of all the different immigrants that came to the city over the years. We're a glorious gumbo of traditions, and that would have never happened if the dominant group refused to incorporate the norms of immigrants into their lives. (While I did oppose the Disneyfication of the city that was mainly because it seemed like that Disneyfication went hand-in-hand with getting rid of black people. If that hadn't been the case, I would be wearing my new mouse ears proudly.)

I think it's funny how threatened some folks are by the way immigrants change places. I'll admit that in the past I've gotten upset when I've gone to restaurants and stores where nobody spoke English and I couldn't make myself understood. However, I've learned to be more accepting of that. Most people try to carve out their own individual comfort zones wherever they go, and I've realized it's pointless to take that as a threat. Besides, when it comes to food, I'm a lover, not a fighter, as my moniker suggests.

People cling to traditions as if the fact that we've been doing something one way for a long time means it's wrong to change things up. We had been electing white men as president for a long time, but obviously change isn't that bad. Culture should be alive and constantly evolving. If a culture is set in stone, most likely it's a culture of the past that nobody really cares about anymore. The traditional New Orleans habits are nice, but there is no reason to believe this city can't be great if we create new habits. The same thing goes for Italy and the world.

I hope that cleared things up.



Anonymous said...

Hah! Catankerous! :-)

I want churros in Mexico, beignets in New Orleans, and donuts in Pittsburgh.

Nyah nyah nyah.

T.A.N. Man said...

I think using new orleans as an example creates several issues--some already named by Big Man. But, one that was not mentioned is the cultural, industrial, and economic staganation the city enjoyed Pre-Katrina. As another first generation New Orleanian, I think I was provided an opportunity to critique many of the isms of the city, instead of the blind acceptance many who grow up there take on. So, the real analogy to Italy's issues is the fact that there was no IHOP in New Orleans until the late 90s/early 2000s and even then it was placed at the last landlocked interstate exit before leaving Orleans Parish. The idea was that IHOP would run out all the mom and pop greasy spoons. But, anyone who lives in a metropolitan area (other than the crescent city) knows that IHOP can co-exist with your town's version of Richard's. I think this is the kind lack of evolution that creates regressive economic and cultural trends in a city/state/country.

Also, New Orleans, as I knew it, had a huge asia population. Asia restaurants abounded. But, they were never a threat to the Acme Oyster Houses and Paul Andersons of the city. Bottom line, blocking the entrepreneurial economic potential of immigrants (national or at the city/state level) is bullshit, plain and simple.

Anonymous said...

Big Man, you are far more gracious than the title of your blog would lead us to believe. You're certainly more diplomatic than I am and I do appreciate it. Believe me.

Let me share one of my favorite stories. While living in Shreveport and running errands I was in a parking lot and a woman (black) was rushing by me. She glanced at me and then stopped short and abruptly asked "You know where I can get some chinese?? I really want some good chinese food. Where's the good chinese at?" No excuse me, nothing, just snapping questions at me.

I stopped, looked right back at her, waited a beat and answered in my decidedly not oriental, definitely california tinged accent, "Now, why would you ask ME that question? You're in Shreveport. There IS no good chinese food around here."

There was this small moment where she looked a little shocked and I smiled and then the two of us about fell over laughing in that parking. We were almost bent double at one point with the giggles.

Now I'm going to the bodega downtown and buying some tacos and churros. Good Day, Fine Sir!

Big Man said...


You tell my I'm a diplomat, and then you tell that story?

Who you trying to fool?

That lady would not have gotten such a polite reply from me.

I was looking over my old posts and somewhere along the way I've mellowed out a little bit. I need to try to generate more righteous anger.

Anonymous said...

OH, my diplomacy, such as it is, is guided by my fear of those who are bigger than me. Which really means most people that I meet in real life.

My son was crowing over how he's taller than me now, and I reminded him that hello, so are most folks over the age of 13. Duh.

Keep the anger on simmer, it's way better for your blood pressure and your family.

Unknown said...


It's funny that people come to NYC and pack the restaurants that they have at home (good luck getting a table at Red Lobster or Applebee's in Times Square). I think there's something to be said for preserving distinct cultural icons in a country where every major city is within 5 miles of a Simon Mall with a Marshalls, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Target in the shopping center across the street.

NYC doesn't have a Wal-Mart within its limits, btw (don't tell anybody, but part of me really hates that).

But nothing beats a really good New Orleans shrimp gumbo. Yes, it was during Mardi Gras when I came, but damnit, it was good!

Dirty Red said...

You are are a bigger man than me.
I would not have explained a damn thing.

This blog is written and maintained by YOU. Which means that you ain't got to explain NADA to anyone on what you write.

If you wanted to write about Italians (Scilians) not wanting to accept their African Heritage, then that would have been your right to do so.
Would that have been racist?

I don't think so. It would have been the damn truth. That is why I cannot understand why black "gangsters" always glorify the Italian Mafia.
I grew up in the Northeast, so I know how Italians are. They do not want to deal with anybody but Italians. I don't know how Italians are in Italy, but I know how they are here. And they did not get that way when they arrived here. They learned it back in Italy, so this story don't surprise me at all.

Unknown said...

Wow! Dirty Red knows every Italian person in the US. That's an accomplishment.

Clifton said...

As fourth generation black New Orleans resident, I just want to say I do love the city but that we don't really care about beignets and stuff like that. Black culture in New Orleans is more family oriented and neighborhood based so placing churros in every eatery wouldn't mean much to us but some white people would riot. Things like that do seem to mean more to them.

As far as culture being influenced by different immigrants, it's already happening now. Black New Orleans never had an issue with different cultures at all. We just didn't want to be exiled all together.

All-Mi-T [Thought Crime] Rawdawgbuffalo said...

well NO will never ever be the same again

Anonymous said... I prepared for my trip to the Crescent City on Wednesday of this current week...

Well, yeah I never got the impression that 100% of black New Orleans pride rested within the confines of the French Quarter, but rather in the community connections that had been formed in their own various neighborhoods. Not sure if it was the age old double-consciousness of blacks coming out because many of the native New Orleanians I knew all participated in Mardi Gras and I was often times rolling with them down to Bourbon Street as a free something to do for college students.

But, I think it does make a difference that you're parents weren't born in the city but rather transplants. Although, I am curious as to where did they move from and how long had they been living there when they had you.

Big Man said...

They came from Texas and outside of Baton Rouge, respectively.

I was already a toddler when we moved to the city. Actually, I may have been four or five.

Icehouse said...

I'd love to hear more on what different races love about the city. Like a venn diagram or something.

But BM, as diplomatic and food-loving as you are, does everybody else feel the same? If all people love New Orleans, why isn't there a flood of people repopulating the area? Could you explain, just a little, Nagin's "Chocolate City"? Remember, I'm not trying to stir the pot, I just really want to know what you think.

Finally, don't listen to people like Darth Whitey and Dirty Red. They cheapen us all.

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