The Crescent City's Haitian Influences

My bucket list includes some over-the-top things, like swimming with great white sharks. It also includes some more down to earth things, like growing my own patch of sunflowers one day. Somewhere in between exhilarating and earthy, I've always wanted to attend a Mardi Gras ball. Imagine my surprise when my friend invited me to not only attend one but to march with the Krewe and be a part of the parade. The next day, I was carrying a giant flag through the French Quarter, flanked by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and totally amazed by the sheer celebration that I was caught in the midst of.

Krewe du Kanaval is dedicated to honoring the strong link between Haiti and New Orleans. Especially as a college student, it's easy to get caught up in the non-stop partying that is Mardi Gras. However, it's important to take a moment and realize the generations of people, the multitude of culture, and the rich history that surrounds the Carnival season in New Orleans. In the early 1800s, the city population doubled when a tide of immigrants landed in New Orleans after fleeing a slave revolt in Haiti. With them, they brought food, music, and an inclination for celebration; their cultural imports largely helped shape the way the city celebrates Mardi Gras today. 

Haiti's ties with New Orleans are strong in history as well as in the present. In fact, the success of the Haitian Revolution was the deciding factor that caused Napoleon to sell his territories to the U.S. in the Louisiana Purchase. Today, any visitor to the city can observe the pristine architecture, taste the spices that make the food so delicious, and (if you dare) look into some of the voodoo happening in the shadows. However, not every visitor knows that all of these things that make New Orleans so special are largely attributed to Haiti and its Caribbean culture. Krewe du Kanaval is dedicated to honoring the city's Haitian roots and changing people's perception of Haiti. The founders wanted to share the wealth of humanity and beauty in the country, in a time where the narrative around Haiti and other smaller countries is particularly hostile and close-minded. 

Originally started by members of the band Arcade Fire and the frontman of Preservation Hall, the French Quarter saw musicians, dancers, flag-bearers, and people clad in costume marching all up and down the streets to honor the country that gave our city so much. That kind of love and appreciation can't be communicated, it needs to be felt. As soon as I set foot on Royal Street, I was overcome with awe for everyone that had shown up to celebrate something with such heart and passion. I had the time of my life and had more than a ball at the celebration that night. At the end of the parade, a representative of Mayor Cantrell even declared February 22nd to be Caribbean Carnival Day– so make sure you're celebrating next year!

Thanks to the best friend in the world, Reagan Orloff, for giving me the opportunity to check something off my bucket list and experience one of the most organic and enjoyable celebrations I've ever seen. Moments like those make you really, really grateful that somehow, the millions of events in your life all worked out to put you in that situation, right there. The only thing to do? Enjoy the jazz and dance.