One of the first things you learn about the history of New Orleans is that the city was founded and settled by waves of people from both France and Spain. The relationship between these two European nations on the banks of the Mississippi was anything but simple and clear-cut. For one telling example, the architecture of New Orleans’ French Quarter is actually Spanish.
The governance of New Orleans swung from one nation to the other over the years, till eventually we became part of the United States. But the influences of French and LatinX people and culture continue to this very day.
Valeria Ali is co-founder of a local Spanish language news service called Al Dia, which in English translates to “The Daily.” Al Dia texts the latest relevant local and national news to subscribers, in Spanish.
Al Dia is a new project that’s part of a larger Spanish language news operation, called Jambalaya News. Jambalaya is the predominant Spanish language news reporting and translation service in the state – around 30% of all Latinx people in Louisiana subscribe to Jambalaya’s social media news platforms. Valeria came up with the idea for the text-message-based Al Dia news service and pitched it to a division of Google called Google News Initiative. Google said “yes” and gave Valeria the funds to launch Al Dia in July of 2021.
The French influence came to Louisiana from two different directions. French settlers came to New Orleans from France. And French Acadians, who came to be called “Cajuns,” moved to South West Louisiana from Canada.
The French from France and the Cajuns – who were originally also from France – spoke two different dialects of French. Today, Cajun French and regular French are more different from each other than ever. But here in New Orleans, a company called New Niveau is dedicated to encouraging the regular use of both dialects.
Officially, New Niveau is a digital media agency and production house specializing in content creation, social media management, and live broadcasting. But New Niveau is most passionate about its work in French. They produce around five news stories in French a week, as well as two ongoing video series. One of them is “Le Tac Tac” – in English, “The Popcorn” – a local gossip show – and the other is “Les Nouvelles-Orléans” – which doesn’t require translation – a daily news show.
Both of these French language shows are hosted by co-founder of New Niveau, Sam Craft.
It can be hard to put your finger on exactly what’s so great about New Orleans. You can easily make a list of things that are challenging – from potholes to humidity – but it’s harder to precisely enumerate what it feels like to walk around the French Quarter, ride the streetcar, eat a muffuletta, catch Zulu on Mardi Gras morning, strike up a conversation with a complete stranger in the grocery store, or hear music.
A part of this indescribable spirit is the combination of cultures that built New Orleans. It’s the way people here have always embraced difference, and incorporated it into daily life. It’s how we got jazz. It’s how we got our signature cuisine. And it’s how we’re continuing, to this day, to build our present and future culture.
Valeria Ali and Sam Craft are both working every day to build bridges between people, between lives, and between languages.
Out to Lunch was recorded live over lunch at NOLA Pizza in the NOLA Brewing Taproom. Photos by Jill Lafleur. And find out more about Louisiana LatinX business in this conversation with ElCentro’s Lindsey Navarro.