STANDING AT THE ALTAR
That the basket in the foreground contains American dollars rather than euros says much about the preservation of cultures. The Sicilian tradition of building food altars to honor St. Joseph survives better in New Orleans than in Palermo. The pattern is not unusual:
Immigrants bring traditions to a new land and preserve them as a way of clinging on to a heritage, but back in the old country the traditions have faded to the advance of modern life. (The polka is likely played more often in the U.S. than in Germany.) New Orleans may be the world’s epicenter for the preservation of the St. Joseph altar, though even here it has been threatened by assimilation. Still, the altars survive, not as many as there used to be but more than can be expected in the post-Katrina era. Notice the intricate breads at the back of the altar. Since Katrina we’ve worried about our native culture surviving. In some ways we are preserving the world’s cultures, too.