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Katrina: An Unnatural Disaster - Home
Project: New Orleans Now: Weathering the Storm

Tena Rubio developed the "Katrina Uncovers" series for the National Radio Project. As part of that series, she produced three 30-minute shows focusing on the immigrant/migrant workforce in New Orleans called "New Orleans Now: Immigrants, Labor Rights and the Human Cost of Rebuilding an American City." She also produced a special one-hour show, "Two Years After Katrina: Still Weathering the Storm."

Rubio shares her experiences developing this project and some of the stories she discovered along the way:

Soon after Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. Gulf Coast, my colleagues and I at National Radio Project made the decision to commit ourselves and our radio program to following the unfolding story of the region. Keeping the focus on the people, their plight, and the social and political divisions that contributed to the collapse of the region in the wake of Katrina and the flooding that followed became a prominent part of our organization's overall mission. "Katrina Uncovers" was born: a series of programs aimed at highlighting the underlying issues that were shaping the political, social, cultural, and economic landscape after the disaster.

"Katrina Uncovers" offered a blend of human stories, critical analysis, and the opportunity to enterprise stories crafted to inform and call-to-action our broad noncommercial audience - a unique national and international activist audience with the commitment and capacity to engage in the work of rebuilding communities and restoring hope to the battered region. The research, on-the-ground reporting, and local, regional, and national outreach were extensive.

And yet there was still so much more to do.

There were people, mostly people of color, living hand-to-mouth in flood ravaged and forgotten neighborhoods. Portions of a displaced population were slowly coming home to a toxic landscape, while many more residents were locked out of their homes - if their homes existed at all. Kids were playing among the ruins of their neighborhoods instead of their local schoolyards. So much of the region and so many of its people were falling through the cracks. And particularly striking to me, while many could not return home, a growing population of Spanish-speaking immigrant and migrant laborers came to the area seeking employment in the face of hostility, police harassment, corrupt contractors, nonexistent medical care and few, if any, legal rights.

Their story hit home. My father grew up in difficult conditions among the forgotten barrios of East Pasadena, California. His father crossed the border illegally to find work as a day laborer building the communities of the San Gabriel Valley. I saw my abuelo's fight in the spirit of the migrant workers gathered on street corners across Greater New Orleans each morning. And I saw his struggle in the faces of those I met.

With this as my background, my focus turned to reporting on the conditions and the challenges of immigrant/migrant laborers in the region. The OSI Katrina Media Fellowship allowed me to explore the very important and very personal issues associated with these workers and their experiences.

The end result of my work has been the production of a series of three 30-minute shows on the immigrant/migrant workforce in New Orleans. Titled "New Orleans Now: Immigrants, Labor Rights and the Human Cost of Rebuilding an American City," it examines several sides of the immigrant worker issue; documenting and delving into this community of people who came from hundreds of miles away, betting their lives on the promise of work. Too often, the work was there and the pay was not. Each story is told in a narrative format with the focus firmly rooted on the workers themselves and the people on the ground supporting and, in many ways, protecting them. The third installment of the series focuses on migrant/immigrant healthcare, demonstrating how the vision, drive and big hearts of two individuals have gone a long way toward treating a population of forgotten people.

For the project, I also produced a show about "art that heals" - New Orleans street art that captures and reflects the city's deep cultural roots, the troubled times it faces and the sense of hope that continues to be nurtured in the midst of Katrina's rubble. It's called "New Orleans Now: Can Art Help Heal a Broken City." The message through these art installations is clear. New Orleans is on a path. From struggle to survival. From recovery to rebirth. This was the "surprise" story of my New Orleans experience. It illustrates and encapsulates what I admire and value so much about the people with whom I crossed paths. It was a story I knew had to be told.

Finally, with the help of a handful of dedicated freelance journalists, I produced a special one-hour anniversary show called "Two Years After Katrina: Still Weathering the Storm." Developed for national distribution through Public Radio Exchange, the show is a collection of stories handling a variety of aspects of post-Katrina New Orleans. From stories of displaced musicians to architectural innovations for new affordable housing to immigrant and migrant worker interviews, the show finds hope among the ruins´┐Żwith the understanding that there is still a long, long way to go.


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