Photo Essays

The American Dream: Reality vs. Representation (New Orleans)

Photos and Captions by Elizabeth Tetu

Steinhardt Deans and University Scholars – freshmen and sophomores from across Steinhardt’s majors – traveled to Louisiana in January 2007 to explore our theme, “The American Dream: Reality vs. Representation,” in post-Katrina New Orleans. As we toured Crowley and Lafayette, rural parts of Louisiana, we visited the crawfish farm of Farmer Kelly. He shared with us information about the farming industry as well as the culture of Louisiana, and learned about how Hurricane Rita damaged many of their crops. On this tour, we also visited a Tabasco farm, a small German community, and a rice mill.

Scholars visited James M. Singleton Charter School in downtown New Orleans and worked with 7th and 8th grade students on essays about youth violence in their community. Afterwards, as shown here, we joined them for lunch and lots of laughs and got to know the students even better. We heard stories of personal and family violence, of dislocation following the Katrina floods, and of renewal. And we asked ourselves what the concept of the American Dream means in communities that have been so devastated.

One part of New Orleans culture that we certainly got a taste of was the food. Scholars tried everything from gumbo and jambalaya to pralines and beignets. This picture shows Anne, a chef at the New Orleans School of Cooking, who taught us how to make some of the dishes, and Julie, a Scholar who assisted her. Anne talked with us about how her own home was flooded, about how the School was only now getting restarted 18 months after Katrina, and how slowly local restaurants were re-opening.

This home in the Lower Ninth Ward was actually picked up and moved by the flood waters, only stopping when it crashed into the side of another, more sturdy, house. The complete devastation of these homes, we learned, is still a very real and enormous problem that must be fixed.

The house in the foreground is one of the few that had been gutted, but the one in the background represents what most of the remaining homes look like: unsalvageable. Behind that house is the levee that broke and flooded this entire area, which used to be full of houses. We spoke with the director of conservation at the National Park Service in New Orleans and learned about the devastating environmental impact of Katrina and Rita on this region.