Mar 7, 2010
Where Cultural Roots Mingle: A Letter to the Editor
By Richard Campanella, Geographer
Re: "The Rice Men Cometh," Living, March 4.
I was intrigued with the story about the three gentlemen with childhood roots in the Chinese Presbyterian Church, who are marketing jasmine rice under the image of jazzman Louis Armstrong.
What they might not realize is that these story lines intersected over a hundred years ago.
The original Chinese Presbyterian Mission, established on South Liberty Street in 1882, helped the formation of a Chinatown around the nearby intersection of Common and South Rampart streets. For decades, New Orleanians of all backgrounds visited this enclave for notions, laundry services and Chinese food, until then a rarity in the city.
The exceptional diversity of the surrounding neighborhood, known loosely as the "back of town," fostered the emergence of jazz in this vicinity.
One neighbor reminisced years later about Chinatown's "restaurants serving soul food on the same menu of their Chinese dishes," and how he and his family used to go "down [to] China Town [to] have a Chinese meal for a change, a kind of special occasion." That neighbor: jazzman Louis Armstrong.
Armstrong and Chinatown are now long gone, but I'm happy to see that their culinary and cultural legacies live on.
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