For Mardi Gras, A Parade Celebrates Mexican Immigrants In New Orleans New Orleans krewes stage parades through the city in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras. This year, a krewe formed by Mexican immigrants, Krewe de Mayahuel, showcased Mexican history and art.
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For Mardi Gras, A Parade Celebrates Mexican Immigrants In New Orleans

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For Mardi Gras, A Parade Celebrates Mexican Immigrants In New Orleans

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Tomorrow is Fat Tuesday, the day that marks the end of all the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans. This follows two months of all the traditional parades and costumes and floats. But this year brought something new - a parade founded by the city's Mexican immigrants. Reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez from member station KPCC has the story.

ADOLFO GUZMAN-LOPEZ, BYLINE: The group is called Krewe de Mayahuel, named after the Aztec goddess of agave, the plant used to make tequila. The two dozen members are mostly in their 20s and 30s. About two-thirds are Mexican immigrants. The rest are from other Spanish-speaking countries, American-born Latinos and white native New Orleanians. They're office workers, engineers and construction workers. The group's ringleader is Roberto Carrillo, a native of Mexico City, who moved here 13 years ago like other immigrants for the plentiful jobs after Hurricane Katrina. But he thought something was missing.

ROBERTO CARRILLO: At some point, I remember saying there is no Mexicans represented in the culture of New Orleans. At some point, I realized that we need representation.

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: He and other members of the group want to dispel racist stereotypes that they hear in the city and nationwide. Mayahuel's parading theme are the paintings of Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Carrillo, dressed in paint-splattered overalls, prompts the members to start walking to the parade starting point.

CARRILLO: Be mindful of a couple things. Drink water. Don't get too drunk 'cause we want to be cool and get invited next year.

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: Mardi Gras cultures and subcultures are infinitely nuanced and deeply ingrained in New Orleans' history and changing demographics. The first krewes were made up of white elites satirizing British royalty. Then excluded blacks formed krewes satirizing those groups. Some are proud of being exclusive, while others relish their openness.

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (Singing in Spanish).

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: Krewe de Mayahuel's Fridas and Diegos paraded from New Orleans' middle-class neighborhoods to the touristy French Quarter.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hi, Frida.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: She's beautiful.

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: Teenagers and senior citizens gushed when they saw one of the krewe's eight Fridas.

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (Singing in Spanish).

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: Mayahuel's musicians stopped several times along the route to play "Cielito Lindo," a classic Mexican song that urges singing in the face of adversity. And they got many in the crowd to sing along, too. New Orleans teacher Eduardo Gonzalez says it reminded him of living in Mexico when he was a kid.

EDUARDO GONZALEZ: It made me feel nostalgic and everything, and I think it's great. Actually, it's really cool.

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: He says he wants to join Mayahuel. Mayahuel's politics are subtle but visible. Members pull an Aztec canoe with the words viva Mexico painted on the side. One of the Fridas pushes a cart with the words migration is natural. And all the members wear monarch butterfly pins, a symbol adopted by immigrant rights activists. Mayahuel member Tiana Nobile likes that Mayahuel is rooted in Mexican culture but open enough to embrace someone like her, a Korean-American who came to this country when she was adopted.

TIANA NOBILE: I think there is a lot of parallels in terms of migration, forced migration. And finding that solidarity with communities here in New Orleans, for me, is really important.

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: After parading more than two miles in two hours, members plop down at a gas station parking lot. Maria Rodriguez was dressed as Diego Rivera's painting "The Flower Seller." She still carries a woven basket with fake calla lilies. Is she tired?

MARIA RODRIGUEZ: I am not. I am not. I have a lot of energy still. I just got a few shots of tequila and...

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: Let the good times roll. That's very New Orleans and Mexican. For NPR News, I'm Adolfo Guzman-Lopez.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH'S "TWIN")

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