Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Reel South: An Enduring Legacy

If you have ever gone on an eating tour of New Orleans and Cajun country, there is a good chance you ate oysters supplied by Croatian-American oyster farmers. It really is more like farming than fishing, as the veteran oyster hands duly explain in James Catano’s An Enduring Legacy: Louisiana’s Croatian Americans (trailer here), which airs as part of the current season of Reel South on PBS’s World Channel (hosted by Darius Rucker).

It stands to reason the skills one learns living off the Dalmatian Coast translate fairly readily to the Gulf Coast. In fact, Croatian immigrants quickly identified the comparative advantage they held in oyster farming. Since the late 1800s, they have built a small but resilient community in Louisiana, largely centered on the oyster business. As one might expect, Hurricane Katrina did not do them any favors, but it was the BP oil spill and the clueless response that really threatened their livelihoods. Yet, they persevere and have started building more permanent community infrastructure.

Basically, Catano pitches it to viewers straight over the plate, but it is a story worth hearing, so why get overly complicated? These are hard-working, hard-playing folks who do not ask anything from anyone. All they want to do is work their oyster beds and keep their Croatian cultural traditions alive for the next generation (who seem to be showing interest, even though there is less oyster work to be had).

It just goes to show, when it comes to New Orleans and the state of Louisiana, the more you look, the more you find. Frankly, just the thought of oysters prepared any dozens of ways in the Crescent City should make you hungry, so it is nice to take twenty-some minutes to appreciate the oyster farmers who helped make so many great meals possible. Recommended for additional perspective on a fascinating state, An Enduring Legacy: Louisiana’s Croatian Americans airs this Sunday (2/26), as part of the current season of Reel South.