For the second in this series saluting people who helped New Orleans get back on its feet following Hurricane Katrina, I’m featuring the story of Darlene Kattan.
Darlene Kattan, a Lakeview resident and member of the Latino community, worked to care for the Latino workers that made their way to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. After so many people had lost everything- their Lakeview homes filled with mud and their possessions unrecognizable- there became a distinct need for a workforce of laborers to help clean, gut and rebuild. While New Orleans had become a place for large numbers of Latino immigrants to come and work it also became a city where they could be easily exploited. Darlene focused her efforts on making sure these workers were being paid fairly and treated properly- even down to basic necessities like fresh drinking water. Her work continues now, a decade after the storm, as she helps new Latino businesses get off the ground in New Orleans.
Darlene views the Latino immigrants that worked so hard to rebuild this city as New Orleans’ unsung heroes. Without them, she feels many people would still be without homes. To help tell her story, Darlene brought me to the Lakeview neighborhood where a great deal of flooding and devastation was caused by a breach of the 17th street canal flood wall. Not only were there still Latino workers building homes along the canal but there were still many houses that were left untouched for nearly a decade- gutted, rotting shells that were once filled with life. Next to those abandoned homes were beautiful new renovations inhabited by residents who were committed to returning to Lakeview- even if it meant building a drastically raised home. Even still, Darlene lamented that a large percentage of the original pre-Katrina Lakeview residents had yet to return.
Watch her story below. Many thanks to StoryCorps for facilitating this interview and Neighborworks America for putting together this video!