Tuesday, March 30, 2010

China’s Slave Labor Toy Factories and Globalization

In Mardi Gras: Made in China, we have witnessed the extremely terrible working environment of bead industry. However in the film, the manager of the factory, Roger, kept reiterating that his employees had holidays and they could even play basketball in the spare time. These statements seem ridiculous to us since we know that workers have little time for entertainment. Then, why could Roger declare with confidence that his employees were enjoying their works? The answer: his factory already treats workers much better than majority of factories.

Santa’s workshop—Inside China’s Slave Labor Toy Factories gives us a precious perspective on factory workers’ workplace environment in China. In the video, the workers told the interviewer that they usually had to work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. There was no minimum wage—the more you work, the more you get. If you work only the normal shifts of 8 hours, you could only get ¥200,or $30 each month, which is even less than the social security aid in major cities. Therefore these workers had to work overtime “voluntarily” so as to earn enough money to make a living. Besides low wages, the workers suffer from unbearable hot environment at workplace. In the video, the narrator claimed that it was “difficult to breath” in the factory. There are also safety issues in the factories. In spite of its obvious delinquencies, the factory was seen to abide the ethic code by its customers every time they visited. In addition, there was no worker’s union in the factory to help workers strife for their rights. The commonly existence of this kind of factory in China certainly made Roger believe that he has done his best for the welfare of his workers.While workers in Roger's factory are essential parts of Mardi Gras, they do not enjoy being that particular part of the festival.

On the other hand, the factory in this video has its own difficulty: customers always want to get goods in a very short period, which could only be achieved with overtime working. To fulfill the requirement so that they can continue to get contracts, factories have to encourage their workers to work overtime to accomplish the task. Had the customers grant longer production period, the overtime could be largely avoided.

The video also inspires us to reassess the cost of globalization which was mentioned in our discussion. It is true that globalization makes goods cheaper. But the cost to the development country is substantial. The factories, committed to finish tasks on time to win future contracts, force their workers to work overtime by setting low wages for regular work time. Also as a result, the pollution to the local environment is conspicuous as mentioned in the video. In short, the industry chose developing countries to maximize profit. However, the industry takes its toll on the workers and on the environment in developing countries.

Link to the video:

Monday, March 29, 2010

Houses of the Future


This article “Houses of the Future” from The Atlantic focuses on the rebuilding of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. The author highlights five different houses that have been built using modern materials and ideas as part of the effort to rebuild New Orleans. These houses, and the housing projects that have produced them, have originated from independent neighborhood projects, created by “an assortment of foundations, church groups, academics, corporate titans, Hollywood celebrities, young people with big ideas, and architects on a mission.” These new developments are rising next to houses that were destroyed in Katrina and at the same time they differ from and are influenced by their surroundings. Many on the housing designs take inspiration from traditional New Orleans housing staples- porches are nearly always included. They also try to prevent devastation from happening in the future- some houses are elevated or feature roof access in case of an emergency. Most of these projects also use green technology to reduce their environmental impact.

I connected this article to Trouble the Water. The people in the film complained that the government did not send enough help to New Orleans during Katrina and they also did not send enough help to rebuild afterwards. The evidence from this article proves that. In New Orleans, “depending on whom you talk to, government at all levels has been passive and slow-moving at best, or belligerent and actively harmful at worst.” Because of this, independent entities have some up with their own plan to try and rebuild after the disaster. With so many ideas, New Orleans has turned “into something of a Petri dish for ideas about housing and urban life.” Hopefully all these ideas will continue to take root in New Orleans and neighborhoods will be revitalized so that Katrina’s effects can be reversed.

"Belle calas, tout chaud!"

As Clyde Woods describes in “Katrina’s World,” the Bourbons ruled France and its colonies, including New Orleans, for nearly two centuries. One of the hallmarks of their colonial rule was the Code Noir, which has been seen as a progressive document ensuring that slaves in the Louisiana territory were treated more humanely than their counterparts in Anglophone North America. Of course, this humane treatment only extended to the replacement of “the rack, mutilation, and dismemberment” with such tactics as “being branded with the fleur-de-lys” (431).

One notable policy of the Code Noir was the ability of slaves to purchase their freedom. In “Calas: The Rice Fritter That Freed the Slaves,” Francis Lam discusses the role of the cala, a rice fritter originating in Ghana and similar to the more famous beignet, in the history of slavery in New Orleans. Because work was forbidden on Sundays, some slaves supposedly sold calas on the street on that day in order to raise funds to buy their freedom. The tradition of selling calas on the street continued past the end of the Code Noir and outlived slavery in the United States, only ending around World War II.

As a result, calas are deeply entwined with the history of free and enslaved blacks in New Orleans. In fact, calas were not only sold by slaves, but by free blacks as well. And some slaves were selling at their owner’s behest, earning money for their master rather than their freedom. One of the most prominent cala chefs, Poppy Tooker, repeats the comment “I think if you have the calas tradition in your family and y'all think you're all-white folks, you have to look a little harder.” As Lam concludes, this intermingling of cultures is what makes New Orleans distinct among American cities.

Fleur de Lis Blooms as Symbol of Katrina

I found this article about the Fleur de Lis and post Katrina New Orleans. The symbol originally represented french monarchy and was brought to the US to show France's influence in Louisiana and Quebec. It later transformed, however, into a profound icon for those affected by hurricane Katrina. The image of the Fleur de Lis has underlying social and political meaning for those trying to rebuild their lives after the storm; people of all races, classes, and ages. The image offers individual meaning (as a symbol of defiance) as well as communal meaning (as a symbol of the restoration of New Orleans the city). The article draws a comparison between the Katrina Fleur de Lis to the iconic image of the three firefighters raising the American Flag on 9/11 (symbolic of "American resilience in the face of the murders of 2,819 innocent people"). This article explains that New Orleans residents frequently have the Fleur de Lis tattooed on their bodies, have a tendency to buy products with the symbol plastered on it, and truly believe the fluer de Lis is representative of New Orleans restoration.

I found another article that displays what the symbol represents for the restoration of the collective New Orleans community. This poster, titled "Resurrection” and created by a Louisiana native, signifies the strength and solidarity of New Orleans after Katrina. Part of the proceeds from the poster sales go to New Orleans Habitat for Humanities projects.

New Orleans woman being considered for Sainthood

I found an article about a New Orleans nun, Henriette Delille, who worked caring for cast-off slaves in antebellum New Orleans. She's being considered for sainthood by the Vatican. On Monday, Pope Benedict XVI declared Delille to be "venerable," which is two steps away from formally being recognized as a saint. The article claims that "Delille's story could have happened only in pre-Civil War New Orleans." The city contained a large, eclectic group of people from different racial, social, and economic backgrounds. Delille was a French-speaking woman of African descent, which is speaks to the diversity of races and unique cultures found in the city to this very day. There are many connections to be made to things we have discussed in class. First of all, Delille's story reminds me of the pastor in the graphic novel, New Orleans AD, who went back to the city to care for victims of Katrina. Religious leaders often have an important role in rebuilding communities. Also, the fact that Delille could canonized for caring for cast-off slaves reminds one of New Orleans' tumultuous past and the racial tensions that still exist in the city. For example, there are the rather baseless claims that the government did not respond so quickly to Katrina because it was mostly minority communities that had to bare the brunt of the damage. Regardless, Dellile's story is an important example of New Orleans culture.

Here is a link to the article: http://www.nola.com/religion/index.ssf/2010/03/henriette_delille_moves_closer_to_sainthood_for_work_with_new_orleans_slaves.html

Self-Empowerment or Self-Exploitation?

“What they really need to do is self-exploit.”

Vibrant in color and garishly adorned with beads, shining rhinestones and feathers, the traditional costumes of the Mardi Gras Indians celebrate the bounty of life and serve to lay their claim to the space around them. They are physical manifestations of the process that brings them together in camaraderie, sharing skills, attitudes, and traditions as they build their elaborate suits. This year, however, Indians have a new goal in mind: making money.

In Campbell Robertson’s article Want to Use My Suit? Then Throw Me Something (NYTimes), he explains a recent movement among participants in the Indian ritual to seek copyright protection for their suits. Frustrated with the pictures snapped of their costumes each Mardi Gras, proponents of the copyrights hope to receive financial compensation for the photos. One photographer who Robertson interviewed, Christopher Porché West said, “What they really need to do is self-exploit. If they want to make money from their culture, they should find a way to commodify it and bring that to the market.”

The comments in the article brought to my mind the questions raised by Lipsitz’s piece concerning the Mardi Gras Indian ritual’s role as a counter-narrative. It’s clear that the influence of commercial culture has altered the folk tradition, but it also demonstrates the ability of a marginalized group to introduce their values into popular culture. Still, now I’m left wondering, does the Indians’ opposition to the pictures challenge a form of exploitation?... or does it simply highlight the unequal resources and opportunities which define life in New Orleans society?

link to article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/24/us/24orleans.html?scp=1&sq=new%20orleans&st=cse

Marie Laveau and Louisiana Voudou

In our class with Professor Huang, the concept of "syncretism" was mentioned, which immediately called to mind the practices of Marie Laveau, who incorporated Roman Catholic beliefs into Louisiana Voudou. Louisiana Voudou, which is different from Haitian Voodoo, was brought to the United States through the slave trade and gained great popularity as an underground religion for the French, Spanish, and Creole speaking African-American population in Lousiana. Marie Laveau herself is a mysterious figure, enhanced by the fact that Marie Laveau was actually two women- a mother and daughter with the same name. Laveau's freedom of religion was aided by her friend/mentor Pere Antoine, who allowed her to practice Catholicism by day and Voudou by night. Rumors about her Voudou practices frequently included her use of snakes, especially of her pet snake named Zombi with whom she danced during rituals. Other, more extreme rumors, claim that her Voudou rituals frequently tranformed in large orgies, sometimes involving the blood of sacrificed animals. The only things known for sure about Marie Laveau are that she was beautiful, always wore a tignon, a headdress that free women of color were required to wear as a symbol of "working, domestic, and enslaved women," and was the most powerful woman in New Orleans during her lifetime.

Tourism and Gentrification in New Orleans

Many Americans view New Orleans as a tourist city - lumbering riverboats, festive Mardi Gras, and the New Orleans Saints all connote a romanticized image of one of America's most exotic cities.

However, the tourism industry deeply affects New Orleans' residents. I found a paper, written by a Tulane Universiy (in New Orleans) scholar, right before Hurricane Katrina on how gentrification affected and continues to change New Orleans' French Quarter, or Vieux Carre. Before commercialization came in the 1950's, the French Quarter used to be a diverse neighborhood, a social mixing spot for French-speaking and English-, speaking New Orleans residents, hence the name French Quarter. The neighborhood was also quite diverse, with a 20% of the neighborhood African American (p. 8). The neighborhood, while pleasant to live in, also had relatively inexpensive property values.

Basically, during the 1950's and 1960's, the city's elite, such as wealthy whites, businessmen, and Bourbons, thought that it would be a good idea to commercialize and sell the city's culture to tourists. While this brought a lot of new jobs and money for New Orleans residents, it also transformed the French Quarter into the romanticized image of the South many Americans, including myself, associate with the ciy. Property values rose, forcing many locally-owned businesses out. The lack of basic necessities, such as grocery stores, and high property values forced many of the less affluent residents, both white and African American, into different parts of New Orleans (10).

Due to this gentrification and commercialization, the population of the neighborhood dropped, especially within the African-American community (the population of African Americans has dropped tenfold since gentrification began), and most of the neighborhood is now made up of souvinier shops, jazz clubs, bars, and hotels. While to many outsiders, the French Quarter retains it's diverse, exotic past, to many long-time, New Orleans residents, it is a hollow shell, commercialized shell of it's former self.

This article reminded me of Woods' article, Katrina's World, that we read on Bourbonism, and how "New Orleans excels at a form of tourism that packages the lived experience of historically oppressed communities for the comfortable consumption of the privileged." (Woods 447).


Disney's New Orleans

In its latest movie, the Princess and the Frog, and in its theme parks, Disney characterizes New Orleans with ornate riverboats, jazz music, Mardi Gras, and voodoo. While there is much to be said about the riverboat and voodoo aspect of this portrayal, for the sake of length I will focus on the music and Mardi Gras aspect of the portrayal.

The Princess and the Frog film is set in New Orleans’ French Quarter in the 1920s, a time "when jazz was thriving" according to Disney's press release. Disney had a lot of stake with the movie, because it was not only Disney's 1) return to 2D animation but 2) portrayed a real city and 3) featured the first Disney African American princess. It was in Disney's best interest to stay true to New Orleans, and it intended to do so. Regardless, when John Lasseter chose Randy Newman to create the music instead of acclaimed composer (popular with Disney) Alan Menken it created quite the stir. Lasseter chose Newman partly because Newman had more eperience with pop/jazz-ish music than Menkens did. Besides, Newman was born in New Orleans and frequented the New Orlean’s Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Of course, Disney didn't question whether or not New Orlean’s really was the birth place of jazz, but neither does the general population. In addition, the Mardi Gras Indians article we read mentioned that most jazz musicians were males, and Professor Huang mentioned that females only joined the music scene as pianists. While at Disneyland, I noticed that all of the musicians were male and in the movie they are all male as well. I suppose this stays true to form, but I'm not sure whether it was intentional or not.

Since Disney had a lot at stake with the movie, it was attentive to detail and tried to portray New Orleans accurately. The animators of the film were sticklers for detail and visited New Orleans, interviewed residents, and checked their facts as much as possible – they even made sure to draw the clock on the St. Louis Cathedral with a IIII roman numeral, just as it can be found in real life.

In terms of historical context and race relations, however, Disney didn’t do the best job. As we read in “Katrina’s World” the 1920s were a time for bourbonism and conservatism in New Orleans. Many Black Louisianans migrated to East St. Louis to escape oppression, extreme racial tensions, and to find jobs. In addition, 1927 was the year of the Great Flood and the late 1920s the time of Huey Long – although Disney may have gotten animation details right, the historical context is not quite right.

But of course, this is entertainment. No one wants to see a movie where Tiana’s restaurant is flooded right after she opens it…it still is a bit strange though. As Professor Huang mentioned, we do not live in a post-racial society. It seems kind of silly drawing this connection...but I couldn't help but notice that at Disneyland, the "ethnic" Disney princesses are grossly under-represented and none of them have their own rides. In addition, Disney's New Orleans Square was portrayed as a fun, musical place serving Tiana’s gumbo. There were colors everywhere, and a mardi gras dance. The entire place was decorated with mardi gras beads, and every time I looked at them I was reminded of Mardi Gras: Made in China and the factory that produced the beads, a factory which probably does not advertise itself as the happiest place on earth.


The phrase "Who Dat?" has been a rallying cry for the New Orleans Saints for years, especially over the course of last year’s Super Bowl Season. The entire phrase is actually, "Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?" While this was heard in bars, seen on shirts, and reproduced by NFL networks, the history of "Who Dat" extends far beyond football. The term actually dates back to the late 1800s when it was used in minstrel shows and vaudeville acts, before jazz musicians picked it up. While the phrase may have originated with minstrel show skits that portrayed African-Americans in a negative light, it has undoubtedly rallied the Saints Nation in a post Katrina city.

Once called the “Aint’s” because of their horrible play, the Saints finally had a winning season in 1983. Out of joy, soul singer Aaron Neville got seven Saints players together in a local studio and by combining “When The Saints Go Marching In” with this Who Dat? Chant, created the Who Dat phenomenon.

When my San Diego Chargers traded quarterback Drew Brees to the New Orleans Saints little did anyone know that Brees would arrive on the eve of arguably our country’s greatest natural disaster. While families sought refuge in the Super Dome (Where the Saints play) the Saints were trying to escape a record of losing seasons. After five years of rebuilding, for both the team and the city, the Saints made an epic and equally doubtful Super Bowl run.

The Saints (16-3) won three postseason games last winter after winning only two in the previous 42 years. They beat Arizona, Minnesota and Indianapolis (16-3 and all division winners) for their first title, scoring 107 points and allowing only 59. This put them up against the highly rated extremely favored Indianapolis Colts in Miami for Super Bowl 44. The Colt’s ace, Payton Manning got the Colts off to a quick start and had them in front for much of the game, but the New Orleans’ league-leading offense outscored The Colts 31-7 after falling behind 10-0. That matched the biggest comeback in a Super Bowl.

Saint’s Coach Sean Payton held the Vince Lombardi Trophy up high and ran into the end zone with several hundred fans chanting the Saint’s rally cry: “Who dat, who dat, who dat say gonna beat dem Saints?” “Everybody back in New Orleans gets a piece of this trophy,” Payton said.


Media coverage of Katrina

When Hurricane Katrina struck during my sophomore year of high school, my class was in the middle of doing a project examining news coverage by various television stations at differing times. I remember my teacher was frustrated because all of a sudden all the news stations only talked about Katrina, making our experiment more difficult. However, I was covering Fox News at 5's local coverage, and I recall being shocked by how little they brought up Katrina compared to all the other news stations my classmates covered. I suppose they felt it did not affect the local DC metropolitan residents greatly, and thus was not local news worthy...

Remembering this made me want to do some quick googling of media coverage of Katrina, and what I found was that only Wikipedia seems to confront the issue head on. The article discusses the racism in the media coverage in that blacks were reported as "looting" supplies while whites were "finding" supplies. In a short article, it also confronts the issue of misrepresentations of rape and murder, which actually impended relief and rescue efforts.

While the news on occasion played a negative role in the disaster, it also greatly helped in bringing attention to the issue and in helping family members locate each other.

Ashe Cultural Arts Center - Rebuilding New Orleans

Considering we have been talking a lot in our classes about cultural art in various forms that contributes to a sense of community, I researched the 'Ashe (pronounced "Ash-ay") Cultural arts center in New Orleans. It is a nonprofit initiative with a mission to promote, produce, create and support programs, activities and creative works that emphasize the positive contributions people of African descent make to their communities.

The website talks about their mission in what they call the 'Post Hurricane Katrina recovery phase" and I thought this was interesting that they have such specific strategies to not only help the physical rehabilitation of the city but they also seek to regain the spiritual and healing force to rebuild New Orleans culture and their way of life to its former glory, despite the physical and emotional damage that Katrina caused. Their main project "ReBuild" seeks to:- be a leader in the strategy to re-populate the Central City neighborhood with it's former residents, and other like-minded neighbors who will work with us to establish a community that respects the values of diversity, justice, cultural fabric, strong families, strong educational resources, youth development, and a robust economy available to all. Rebuild aims to act as a producer and presenter of multi-disciplinary cultural art works throughout the New Orleans Diaspora (Katrina evacuee locations) that inform and guide the consciousness of community, public policymakers, and business leaders about ReBuild New Orleans issues; and Support and assistance for New Orleans artists and culture bearers in their efforts to resume their lives and careers.

To me, this organization is a reminder that there are more powerful cultural forces at work not just the government funded corporations that are rebuilding New Orleans but the cultural effort to rebuild community through art. Talks, workshops, groups, art days, concerts are all implemented by Ashe cultural arts to re-establish the celebration of cultural art in New Orleans and to remind the city that there is a future for its culture beyond the horror of Hurricane Katrina.

Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers

Zeitoun is the newest work of narrative non-fiction by Dave Eggers, released in June of 2009.

It retells the experience of Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his family during Katrina and its aftermath, pieced together by hours of interviews with the family themselves. The book follows Zeitoun as he stays in the city to look after his home and other properties (he is the owner of a contracting and painting business), while his wife and four children fearfully evacuate. As the storm becomes catastrophic, Zeitoun sets out around the city in a canoe, shuttling refugees to safety, saving drowning victims, feeding dying dogs. However, a week after the hurricane first hit the city, he is arrested without reason. We follow his trajectory through a series of bureaucratic mishandlings and racial devastations -- he is held in a chainlink, makeshift prison in a parking lot for days; interrogated and violated as a suspected member of Al Qaeda; refused any communication with his family.

The book provides another riveting account of the horrors of the storm, but it's also much more than that: it's the history of a family, a discussion of religion in contemporary America, and a painful questioner, asking, How can something like this happen in this nation?
It's a very impressive work, and I really recommend it.

More about the book HERE

Taking the easy way out

At the end of Professor Hao Huang's lecture on March 11, he made a comment that we don't live in a post-racial society, and that jazz and blues music helps to highlight the tensions and hope of living in a racial society. After the build-up during the lecture with his emotion regarding Louis Armstrong and his immense talent, this was a climactic ending, for sure, but beyond that, one of his points struck a chord with me; the bit about not living in a post-racial society, to be specific. I've thought some on my own about the concept of being "color-blind" versus tolerant and open-minded, and which is better, but I've never tackled the concept of living in a post-racial society. I hesitated making a claim about the intricacies of "color-blindness" because I felt I didn't have much to lose. On the surface, the only thing that identifies me as the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants is my name; however, I feel that we all have a stake in how we define our society, and whether or not we can call ourselves "post-racial."

During the election and inauguration period of President Obama, there was much talk of America as a "post-racial" society. Many said that with the election of a Black president, we as a nation could finally move past the issue of race and live in a society free of color bias, and while this sounds lovely and utopian in concept, I think it's unrealistic and unfair. The incarceration rate of blacks is six times as much as it is for whites, and public school system is a perfect example of de facto segregation. Not much changed in the ways our society treats minorities with the election of President Obama, we just say it has. This is hardly post-racial. This is taking the easy way out. Race in our society has become somewhat of a dirty word. President Obama made one statement and one statement only during his campaign about race (we read it in class - incidentally, he doesn't necessarily advocate for a post-racial society, rather a society that chooses to come together with an understanding of race and the place it has, and has had, in our country), and the politics involved in critiquing race in the campaign were complicated, and at the very least, racially driven. The sensitivity involved in this process proves that there still is a thing known as race-relations in this country, and that race still matters in the minds of people. I think people like Jay-Z, when making the claim that "There is no such thing as black music" (http://www.sohh.com/2009/05/jay-z_speaks_genre-splitt.html) are over-simplifying and not choosing to look at the intricacies of our society. Former President Carter spoke out in September 2009, saying, "I think people that are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced to a major degree by the belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African-American," (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/sep/20/jimmy-carter-barack-obama-racism). These kinds of comments spark outrage, yet, in my opinion, they are closer to the truth about our society than those more similar to Jay-Z's.

The desire to move past a racial society and into an era of post-racial living is understood, and even though I feel like erasing race in our society would be a loss to the minutiae of our joint culture and histories, I feel, first and foremost, that it is too soon to claim that the time of post-racial society has arrived. If we do this, then we can't fully and objectively evaluate and solve the problems in our society directly tied to race. Problems such as incarceration rates, poverty and unemployment, schools and education and housing and urban development. These things aren't going to go away by claiming that life is good, and that race is irrelevant. Doing so lets us to not face the unappealing truths we share about our society and race; it lets us take the easy way out. And this makes jazz and blues music all the more relevant. We need a place in our society that acknowledges race, and pain and struggle and hope. And that's what this music can do.

Here are some more articles/opinion pieces that I read when constructing this post:



Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Superdome

The variety of different experiences during Hurricane Katrina is exhibited in A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge struck me as so striking because I had always assumed that New Orleans had suffered equally, but when I watched Trouble the Water I was amazed at the lack of footage from the Superdome. When Katrina was still a national crisis, and when the media was still trying to piece together what was going on in Louisiana, the Los Angeles Times ran an article on its front cover:


This article is what my picture of Katrina is. What the movie outlined for me was that the Superdome was not the only place left to fend for itself, the entire Lower Ninth Ward was desolate. Perhaps this article only provides a single, focused look into Katrina, but like all the other articles we have read on New Orleans it adds to our overall picture of the city.
There are multiple ways to connect this article to the course: Recall the scene from the film when they drive on the freeway past the Superdome and think of what was going on inside of it at the time that shot was filmed. Secondly, this is yet another story of Katrina, the floodwaters, the disaster, the people, which all of our readings have somehow been building up to or adding to. And lastly, with a broader American Studies focus in mind, note that this article is yet another perspective from which to view the disaster that redefined New Orleans and an entire population forever.

Katrina Victims Seek to Sue Greenhouse Gas Emitters


More than 1,200 people died in Hurricane Katrina when levees gave way under the weight of crashing waves. According to John McPhee, from the very moment humans waged war on Mother Nature and tried to direct the flow of the Mississippi River, they were destined to fail. In Trouble the Water, the black residents of the Ninth Ward blame the government for ineffective action. Well, residents of southern Mississippi claim that gas-emitting multinationals like Shell, ExxonMobile, BP and Chevron—what McPhee calls “the American Ruhr”—are also responsible for boosting the terrible storm. The residents filed a class-action suit against these companies just weeks after the 2005 storm.


The multinational companies’ operation of energy, fossil fuels, and chemical industries in the United States cause the emission of greenhouse gasses that contributed to global warming. This increase in global surface air and water temperatures in turn caused a rise in sea levels and added to the ferocity of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed the homes and communities of countless individuals.

Furthermore, according to the plaintiffs, the greenhouse gas emissions of companies like Honeywell and American Electric Power caused saltwater, debris, sediment, hazardous substances, and other materials to enter, remain on, and damage the residents’ property.


The district court initially rejected the case, ruling that it was "a debate which simply has no place in the court." Mississippi residents must now wait for the appeals court to fix a new hearing, in principle within the next three months. A decision would then be due by the end of 2010, and both sides could also then take the case to the Supreme Court.

Hopefully, the decision will result in justice. The Mississippi residents rightfully believe that the companies have a duty to "avoid unreasonably endangering the environment, public health, public and private property."

The Mummers of Philadelphia

In Lipsitz’s, “Mardi Gras Indians” he discusses how the parade is more than just a single day event for the participants. The parade has turned into a community builder and the costumes that are made, become a yearlong labor of love for not only the participants but also the community. This ritual is similar to that of the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia. The parade takes place on New Years day, dating back to 1901. The Mummers Parade is made up of four divisions, comic, fancy, string band and fancy brigade. The costumes are as elaborate as the dance, each more impressive than the next. When driving through South Philly, you can see the “club houses” of the different mummers groups. These houses serve as a hang out during Philadelphia Eagles games on Sundays, and as the workshop for their elaborate performances. This, like the Mardi Gras Indians, is more than just a creation of a parade; it is a creation of a community.

Here is a link to the website:


Mardi Gras Indians Traditions and History revisited


This website talks about the history and customs behind the group of people known as the Mardi Gras Indians that have been neglected for too long. Their story as a community is an interesting component of the country because of the fact that in their blood lies the history of African Americans and the Native Americans that were willing to help them during “the tyranny of slavery.”
Traditionally, what happens during the Mardi Gras parade is that is two tribes meet, and the chiefs of both tribes will greet each other with a song, dance, and the challenge of a "Humba" which is the demand that one chief pays respect to the other by bowing. Although it sounds like there is a tension between the tribes, the reality is that they respect each other, which is shown in the appreciation they have for each other’s flamboyant costumes that took a year of dedication, money and motivation to complete. In addition to this, the website talks about how the Indians also compare each other dances and songs during the Mardi Gras parades.
Fortunately, the history of this group of people is receiving more recognition around the country and around the world. Also, the creation of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian Council in 1987 has helped in the preservation of the Indian culture. This website reminded me a lot about the article we read in class about the Mardi Gras Indians, and how they strive to be appreciated for their resistance to mainstream culture. I thought this website was interesting and informative in giving a more complete description of what happens on the big day when they show of their creative talent and their pride. I think it would also be interesting to see what their lives are like outside of this event, and whether that pride is as publically displayed.

Left Behind

I wasn't sure what to write about in this blog, so I decided to search for news or information on New Orleans public education system. After searching through google for some time, I found an article on St. Petersburg Times about a documentary film Left Behind: The Story of the New Orleans Public Schools which was perfect for what I was looking for. According to this article and other reviews I read (for I couldn't see the film itself, I had to buy it to watch it) the film was filmed before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina. The film focuses on three African American high school seniors from uneducated impoverished neighborhoods, who are struggling to graduate from high school. The film shows the lives of these 3 young men at home, school, with family and friends, and even in the Mardi Grass festival. I found this film interesting because, although we haven't focused on Hurricane Katrina and its aftermaths, the neighborhoods and the schools that these young men come from were probably greatly affected by Katrina. I wonder about their reactions to the aftermaths of Katrina and their reactions to their public school system. I wonder how much aid these three students and their families were given after Katrina and how their schools have been affected. The summaries of Left Behind reminded me of Mardi Grass: Made in China, because both films portray a group of people, a community that lacks resources and that lacks the opportunities to get those resources. Moreover, both films examine the roles of certain powerful individuals and their participation within the overall system, public education or capitalism.

Music and history

This article is about the different types of songs that have been recorded since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. It is interesting to see how different ways of presenting history can have an impact on how it is remembered. For example, the documentaries that were watched in class, I feel, were far more effective than a word description. Having an actual visual and hearing responses of people who lived through Katrina or worked in a factory that produced Mardi Gras beads is more likely to convince people to take action to solve the problem. Bringing music into the picture allows for an even wider audience to be reached. It is also important that history shows both sides of the story. The best way to document the side of the victims is through documentaries as well as journals and music. Trouble the Water provides a first hand account of the actual events but music is able to provide the emotional impact that lingers long after the event when news coverage is no longer there.



In June 2008, near the end of my junior year in high school, I went on a school trip to New Orleans for a week. The goal of this trip was not only to visit a very interesting place like New Orleans, but we also helped with the clean up and rebuilding of the city. We were given a house to work on in the lower 9th ward, where the majority of the destruction happened.

The first day we got there, we drove out to the location of the house. It was an incredible drive. Even after three years, there was so much damage and clean up left to do that it seemed like the hurricane happened the day before. When we got to the house, it was barely even standing. Most of the bricks had been thrown hundreds of yards away and the wood beams holding the house up were rotting away. The next day we started working. We took down the rest of the bricks and started replacing the beams. By the end of the week we had replaced all of the rotted beams and had put wood panels up all around the house so that further construction could be done. Our group leader said he had never seen this much progress in one week of work. The grass and weeds were cut and the house was starting to take shape again.

On our last day there, the owner of the house came by to see us. The moment she walked in the house she started crying. Back before the storm she used to be the lady everyone in the neighborhood loved. Kids would take breaks from playing to come to her house and have freshly made lemonade. She was so thankful that we were helping her re-start that life.

Another group went the following year to continue the work. They sent us a picture of the finished house, one year in the making. The old lady had moved back in and the neighborhood was beginning to be full of life again.

Rex Vs Zulu: Krewes in Mardi Gras

Although from the readings we have looked at the Mardi Gras tradition, what I find particularly interesting is the different ‘krewes’ which participate each year, and what they individually symbolize in terms of their different cultures and histories.
From the official Mardi Gras website, it is stated that New Orleans began holding street processions by the late 1830s, with the media of the time (newspaper journalism) reporting events in advance, which were formed through New Orleans clubs and organisations. Interestingly, one of the most famous and prominent krewe of today was formed back in 1872, when a group of businessmen invented the ‘king of carnival’- Rex- to parade in the daytime parades. They were innovative in creating the Mardi Gras colours of purple, green and gold, the Mardi Gras song and the Mardi Gras flag. Decoration was an important factor in the celebrations from its beginnings. In 1909 the first recording marching of another group called the 'zulus' came to the Mardi Gras parade. This organization also held a 'king' status, however the decoration was much more humble than the lavish decor of Rex.

Although there are many private organizations which take part in Mardi Gras today, both Rex and the Zulu krewes are arguably two of the most famous. What is interesting is how they represent two very different cultures and histories. European-American elitist culture can clearly be shown within the Rex parades, whereas the Zulus represent a largely African American culture.
With New Orleans Mardi Gras being hyped as the 'greatest free carnival on Earth', I find the histories of these krewes fascinating in that it shows the event in more than commercial terms, which I think we sometimes forget.

Here I have included some links showing both the Zulu and Rex krewes from 2007- you can clearly see how different their styles are.

HYPERLINK "http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/history.html" http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/history.html A short history of Mardi Gras

HYPERLINK "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ds2GXlkxQsk" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ds2GXlkxQsk Some pictures of the Krewe of Rex Parade 2007

HYPERLINK "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i30srAmgJDI" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i30srAmgJDI Some pictures of the Krewe of Zulu Parade 2007

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Levees

In The Control of Nature, John McPhee traces the battle between man and nature in the Mississippi River/ Atchafalaya area. He suggests that the development of America as a nation necessitated the development of mechanisms to control nature. He argues that, in the quest of settlement and progress, “Nature…had become an enemy of the state” (McPhee, 7). As he explores the clashes between man and nature, he is struck by the Corps assumed right to conquer natural occurrences: “What struck me…was his evident and inherent conviction that a community can have a right to exist …in the middle of one of the most theatrically inundated floodplains in the world” (McPhee, 83). For McPhee, and myself, this concept is particularly intriguing. For all the work that the Corp engineers have devoted to refining and reinstating control mechanisms over the natural flow of the water, is it all worth it? While there is disagreement as to whether or not lasting control will ever be achieved, the continued efforts to support such power of nature suggests a feeling of entitlement to settlement. But can a “natural” claim to the land truly exist if efforts are continually thwarted by the strength of nature?

In an article in USA Today, reports made by the Corp are highlighted as signaling the “unacceptable” quality of levees all over the country. While McPhee concentrates on the Mississippi River region, this article suggests that the poor quality of levees threatens communities all across America. Tammy Conforti, the head of the Corps' levee safety program, says that these communities should be concerned and aware of the dangers of relying on the levees. However, these communities would not exist if not for the levees. The creation of the levees, and presumed control over nature and the land that accompanies them, provides the foundation for community growth. With around 177 levees deemed as “unacceptable,” the Corps latest inspection places large areas of settlement in a state of risk and fear. What does this mean for how we have settled this country? If we have to use unnatural and evidently unreliable methods to make the area suitable for living, should we settle there at all?

Link to the article with full list of levees considered unacceptable and the communities considered at risk:


Friday, March 26, 2010

“The Princess and the Frog” in New Orleans

While I haven’t seen Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog,” I find it very interesting that it is set in New Orleans. They chose New Orleans because it is “the most magical” American city. I find this so interesting because I feel like it ties in with we were talking about in class about Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is a celebration that upholds this magical sense of New Orleans through the elaborate parades and shiny beads; the city truly transforms into a vivacious and lively place. It is because of this atmosphere that it makes it possible for a fairy tale to happen there.

However what is so interesting about New Orleans is that it has these two distinct vibes, a magical one and a tragic one. The shocking reality of Katrina (like what the Woods article talked about) puts the city in a different light, one of devastation, destruction and racism. I think New Orleans is unique in this way because it somehow balances these two very distinct worlds. By having “The Princess and the Frog” based in New Orleans it shows that it is fairy tale worthy, but it is important to see that New Orleans is not that simple because as Katrina uncovered there are many aspects of the city that don’t contribute to such a happy ending.


Once you go to the homepage, they talk about New Orleans under “Video” à “Featurettes” à “New Orleans”

When the Levees Broke: A requiem in four acts

I was a sophomore in high school when Hurricane Katrina struck, and we were in the midst of a media studies project that required us to watch a certain news program nightly to analyze the use of time slots and advertising. Needless to say, Katrina took up the majority of everyone’s different time slots, so everyone in my class got to learn a lot about the levees, the racial issues, and the reaction (or lack thereof) of the government. Katrina became a huge part of my class’s education throughout our high school education, and we even started a project to help raise money and send students down over breaks to help rebuild. In one of our senior seminar classes, we watched Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke, a four-plus hour documentary that highlighted every terrible aspect of the hurricane and often left people in tears when class let out.

The documentary is relevant to our class even though we haven’t discussed Katrina too much. Lee did an excellent job showing the absolute love New Orleans natives have for their hometown, and the hardship that came with having to start over after so much had been put into the city for years. The Mardi Gras Indians we read about march through the streets showing how important the passing on of New Orleans traditions is, has been, and will be, but NOLA citizens were faced with a huge challenge once they had to start over with nothing but their traditions and culture.

The film also relates to the class discussions and readings because its title refers directly to the blues song “When the Levee Breaks,” from the early 1900s, which once again shows the importance of blues music in New Orleans culture. Many of the people interviewed were/are involved in the music scene in New Orleans and what they had to say really highlighted the importance of music in the lives of NOLA people.

It’s long (and oftentimes very hard to get through because of the disheartening images and interviews), but When the Levees Broke is very interesting and worth viewing if you’re interested in what citizens had to say about the need to preserve New Orleans culture after Katrina.

The Subversion of Commercial Culture in Lil' Wayne's "Tie My Hands"

During this unit on New Orleans, our class has spent a significant amount of time discussing two of defining features of the city—the refinement of Jazz and Blues music and the unique cultural hybridity of its citizens. In his essay “Mardi Gras Indians,”
George Lipsitz discusses how the Mardi Gras Indians (whose practices are an example of cultural hybridity because they blend Native American and African traditions) use the commercial culture of Mardi Gras to resist the hegemonic elite society of New Orleans. As Lipsitz says, “ [The Mardi Gras Indians’] fusion of music, costumes, speech and dance undermines the atomized European view of each of those activities as distinct and autonomous endeavors…”
Like the Mardi Gras Indians, the hip hop artist and New Orleans native, Lil’ Wayne, uses commercial culture to subvert the dominant political and social philosophies of America. In the song “Tie My Hands” Lil’ Wayne expresses his anger and sadness about the events of hurricane Katrina against the backdrop of a strong synthesized beat:

I lost everything, but I ain't the only one/
First came the hurricane, then the morning sun/
Excuse me if I'm on one, and don't trip if I light one, I walk a tight one
They try to tell me keep my eyes open/
My whole city under water, some people still floatin/ (Lil’ Wayne)

The following is a link to a You Tube video of Lil’ Wayne’s song “Tie My Hands”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgwJx8l97Bo

Thursday, March 25, 2010

New Orleans Jazz Festival

The annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is coming up, April 23 through May 2 (we should have a field trip!) This is a yearly celebration of the city's musical and cultural roots, that started in 1970 as a small festival and has grown into a two weekend long jamboree. The festival focuses on the musical history of the city, as the founders of the event "wanted to create an event worthy of the city’s legacy as the birthplace of jazz," and performers come from near and far to play or sing at this big event. The festival shows the pride that New Orleans takes in its musical roots and its unique culture, as it showcases many musicians, past and present that claim the city as their place of origin--like Louis Armstrong. Internationally known performers also come, like Aretha Franklin and Van Morrison, which highlights the importance and presence New Orleans has as a well-known musical city.
It is also the "Heritage" festival, meaning there is more to the celebration than music. The modern festival includes food booths, arts and crafts, and cultural displays of the many different groups that make up New Orleans: Haitian, Native American, African, South American, and others. The "foods and crafts" section of the website described the mixed culture: "Like its signature dish, gumbo, Louisiana is a spicy stew comprised of many distinctive elements — African American, Cajun, Native American, Isleño and practically everything in between." It is a presentation of the city's entire culture, centering around its music, but extending to the many other colorful aspects of the city. Interestingly, the article does not really mention the racial divides that we have been reading so much about, though this seems to be an integral part of the development of jazz in New Orleans. Perhaps at the actual festival more is presented, through words and music, about the history of the city itself.
Another interesting aspect of the festival is the Community Day of Service, in which volunteers come together to help build homes for the musicians and "cultural community." It is really interesting and wonderful that such a tradition has sprung up, where people will give their time and effort to help encourage the musical and cultural communities to live and grow. In our readings, being a musician was not always seen as an upstanding job, especially by the Downtown Creoles, and there was a lot of tension between different minorities. Now, it seems, though obviously not all of the problems of race are solved, there are people who work together to help both of these groups. This really represents a community element of the city, as it helps to take care of some of the aspects of its people--the "cultural groups" and the musicians--that make it so unique.

New Orleanes and Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina really pointed out the racial divide in New Orleans that was always there but never was really brought up and talked about. Katrina just threw the issue right out into national attention. Below is a movie one of my high school friends, Mishka, made. In his film, he points out the racial divide, yet I think one of the more important themes is it seems to say regular citizens can take action and make a difference.

He made his movie as a semi-finalist for a Doorpost film contest in 2008 for the word Hope. It's 14 minutes, a little long, but I think it makes a clear point and has a little twist at the end. So I hope you enjoy "The Heart of New Orleans."

Select it and put it in your browser.