NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — Many people think of New Orleans as a french city, but don’t know how close the city once was to the Hispanic regions of Central and South America. The political and commercial relationship between New Orleans and Latin America was strongest in the 1960s, and only a glimpse of that relationship remains.

At the corner of Basin and Canal Streets, there is the first of three neutral grounds that was part of what used to be called the “Garden of the Americas.”

Marilynn Miller, a professor at Tulane University who teaches the Spanish and Portuguese departments, said that a lot of people don’t know about the history. “I think a lot of people don’t know about this because that mid-20th century history of collaboration with Latin America is forgotten,” Miller told WGNO’s Susan Roesgen.

Professor Miller said the collaboration was promoted by Mayor Chep Morrison who saw the benefit of commerce and cultural connections with Latin America. “He was on a campaign to draw attention to NOLA’s historic role as the gateway to the Americas.”

To symbolize that role, Morrison commissioned the statues. Simon Bolivar, Benito Juarez, and Francisco Mora-sahn, as important as they were in life, more people today probably know the lotto numbers than their names.

Their nations’ flags no longer fly on neutral ground and all three have seen better days. “Commerce in the city started to change..a lot of port traffic started to go to Houston and Miami, changing the sense of Nola as a very pan-American city,” said Miller.

Professor Miller points to graffiti on one of the statue pedestals that says “Ojos”, Spanish for eyes. She says it’s time to get more eyes on this Hispanic heritage.

Be sure to check out our Hispanic Heritage Special!

  • Friday, October 14 at 6:30 p.m. on WGNO
  • Saturday, October 15 at 9:30 p.m. on NOLA-38