bo kho debris
pickled daikon and carrot
Claiborne Avenue is home to a rich culture of Black communities in New Orleans and has served as a cultural and economic hub for these communities for over a century. That all changed in the late 1960s, when a federal infrastructure initiative would replace the towering oak trees and buildings that lined the streets of Claiborne Avenue with an elevated freeway. Claiborne Avenue was the epicenter of the Black community in NOLA, connecting uptown to downtown and home of local theaters, bars, small businesses, and homes. It was also the home of Black Mardi Gras, a celebration of Black Creole and New Orleans culture. Originally developed in the late 1820s, its early population consisted of free Black Creoles, enslaved Black Americans, Haitian refugees, and White Creoles.
Then, in June 1956 the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 was passed, authorizing the construction of a 41,000 mile network of interstate highways spanning the entire nation. New Orleans officials would advance two project proposals, one targeting the French Quarter and the other targeting Claiborne Avenue. The French Quarter was then a mostly White neighborhood considered a historic part of the city and had much local support in blocking the plans for construction in the neighborhood. On the other hand, the residents of the Tremé neighborhood remained largely unaware of the plans for Claiborne. Claiborne lacked the iconic status associated with the French Quarter, and its surrounding neighborhoods had no historic-district protection. Its residents were still fighting for basic civil rights, such as voting and access to public facilities. As such, plans began to be set in motion for the destruction of Claiborne Avenue. In February of 1966, residents were surprised by the sudden arrival of the New Orleans Parkway Commission, armed with chainsaws and backhoes, intent on cutting down the beautiful oak trees that lined the streets. Over the next few years, residents would see the neighborhood dismantled, as construction of the expressway would proceed. This would result in business closures across the neighborhood, property values declining, and a downward spiral of divestment.
The original plan was to build both the Riverfront and Claiborne expressways, which would connect the newly constructed Pontchartrain Expressway. However, after seeing the decimated Claiborne neighborhoods, advocates of the French Quarter doubled their efforts to protect that historic neighborhood from destruction. Then on July 1, 1969, the Secretary of Transportation John Volpe canceled the Riverfront Expressway, convinced it would do irreparable damage to the French Quarter, and so the French Quarter was spared. Claiborne, on the other hand, received no such sympathy, already having halfway completed the construction of its expressway. The Claiborne Avenue Expressway would continue to be built, leading to the destruction of 500 homes, division of local neighborhoods, and an irreparable drop in economic activity and quality of life.
On March 31, 2021, under the Biden Administration, a provision in their new infrastructure proposal as part of Biden’s American Jobs Plan, includes funding to reconnect the neighborhoods divided by the construction of the Claiborne Avenue Expressway, among other neighborhoods affected by previous transportation initiatives. However, it is still unclear of how and when the White House intends to move the package through Congress.
Like Claiborne Avenue, many Chinatowns across the nation face destruction due to the federally backed infrastructure packages and construction of highways throughout the country. Boston’s Chinatown is one instance of this destruction, where the construction of Interstate 93 cut through the once vibrant cultural hub in the 1950s. Similar accounts were seen in Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, among others. There is a history of destruction of historically POC neighborhoods in this country, and we have a shared responsibility to protect these neighborhoods.
With this shared responsibility, we dedicated this dish to the underserved neighborhoods that often are the first to be dismantled by construction projects. Inspired not only by the rich history of Claiborne Avenue, but also of the history of the once humble Po Boy. The Po Boy originally served the underprivileged, a humble sandwich of french bread, tomatoes, lettuce, and roast beef debris - the trimmings of a roast beef, simmered in gravy. Today, the Po Boy is associated with fried shellfish and nearly three times the price of its original predecessor. Like these neighborhoods, this sandwich has been gentrified, servicing now a completely different economic class. We also pay respects to the Vietnamese bakers of New Orleans, who now predominantly supply the city with its French bread for the aforementioned sandwich. Making our own roast beef debris with the Vietnamese beef stew, bo kho, we pair the shredded, gravy smothered beef with a pâté remoulade sauce and pickled daikon and carrots, invoking the flavors of a bánh mì.
Photograph by Mischelle Moy