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Wet Books: New O.C. Haley Restaurant Fights Censorship with Libro-traficantes

by M.D. Dupuy

With the addition of the Zeitgeist Multidisciplinary Arts Center, frequent food truck fare, and the latest Casa Borrega, Oretha Castle Haley is becoming a regular hub of cultural activity. The new spot, which is still in its soft opening phase, (1719 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard) is hosting a Dia de los Muertos altar and event that serves as an opportunity to have fun, read some books, and shed light on the sociopolitical climate that exists for Latin American people residing in New Orleans.



The authentic Mexican restaurant, music venue, art spot, and cultural center went totally green when they renovated the O.C. Haley hangout, which is no surprise considering one of the founders is The Green Project’s Linda Stone. Hugo Montero and she live above the new addition, and they’re inviting you to celebrate their inclusion into the neighborhood this Friday, November 2 with the leader of the Librotraficantes Movement.


Librotraficantes founder Tony Diaz aims to integrate Mexican-American studies in the Tucson Public School curriculum. In January of this year, the Tucson Unified School Board banned Mexican-American ethnic studies, citing concerns over “biased, political, and emotionally charged teaching.” Outrage spread outside of state lines.


The Librotraficante movement aims to amplify the Latin American voices that they see as being silenced by exclusionary laws and a broken political system. The Librotficante Caravan to Smuggle Banned Books Back to Tucson emerged in six states and opened four Underground Libraries, and it has smuggled over 1000 “wet-books,” donated from all over the country into Tucson.


Diaz, author of the award-winning novel The Aztec Love God and his most recent work The Children of the Locust Tree, will lead Friday’s evening of contraband prose as one of his stops on his tour around the country to end discrimination and censorship on a national level.


Longtime resident Montero says that New Orleans proper is severely lacking in terms of a place for Latinos to connect with one another, especially considering the fact that they represent the largest minority in the United States.  


“In the Greater New Orleans Area, there’s no place where you can get together and talk to people who are educated, who have travelled. We want to create a place for everybody, and Casa Borrega intends to be that,” says Montero.


No one can sustain a culture without sustaining the earth, and Montero says he and Stone have done everything in their power to keep their renovation eco friendly. “We have invested so much money, but mostly our energy. Everything is handmade, from recycled materials.”  


One of the biggest misconceptions Montero wants to clear up for people interested in Mexican-American history is the influence Mexico has always had on its northern neighbors.


“People don’t know that Mexico used to own parts of Wyoming, Mexico, California. The whole French Quarter is totally Hispanic.”


Montero earned his Master’s in Latin American Studies, and his specialty is Colombian Latin American history. The artistic academic says the “French Quarter,” is a bit of a misnomer, since so much of the famous architecture is Spanish.


Join Diaz, Montero, Stone, and others from the community on Friday night from 7-8:30pm. The restaurant isn’t open for food yet, but Montero says they aren’t far away from reaching their longterm goals.


“We’re going to give you a big smile and your food is going to be good and cheap,” he says. “We don’t have that in New Orleans right now.”

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