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Interviewee: Al Sunseri

Role: Owner P & J Oyster Company, New Orleans, LA

Date of Interview: 11/01/11 and 11/08/11

Collection: Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster Oral History Project

Click on the link below to play the audio clip from the interviewee.

Abstract: Al Sunseri is the president and fifth-generation owner of P & J Oyster Company, Inc., an oyster processing plant that, for five generations, has been located in the heart of the French Quarter in New Orleans. He notes that in his business, shucking oysters is mostly done by skilled immigrants, who over the years become like members of his family. After the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, oysters from Louisiana's oyster reefs were unavailable; there were no oysters to shuck. Sunseri talks about how tough it is to see his shuckers unable to continue to raise families and send children to college through their labor, which also made his company successful.

Transcript:

Shucking oysters is a highly-skilled position. And it's always been a immigrant's business If you go back to the beginnings of our business, if it was not the Islenos in the eastern part of our state, in St. Bernard Parish, to the Croatians in Plaquemines Parish, or the Italians in Jefferson, and the French, which went from all over, but mainly from Lafourche Parish on west, but the French were from all parts of the state, being that this was a French settlement. But that was kind of how it went, and it's always been that immigrant's business. And the shuckers were originally the French. We had Spanish. And as time went on, we had the black people that were sharecroppers, that actually came from north of New Orleans, that worked here during the cold time and then went back and worked in the fields and all during the warmer times. And from there, we had immigrants as the Vietnamese came in after the Vietnam War. And then now, more recently, we have the Hispanic community that's come up from South America and Central America.

Five generations of us now, have made a living on this business. It means a real lot to me and what is probably the hardest thing is after this last disaster, man-made disaster with British Petroleum, is having these people that we grew up with, these ladies that Blake (his son, pictured with Al in photo above) was speaking about that, he came in as a baby. I mean, we literally brought him in here. His mom would drive him up with him in the car seat and carry him in. And they got to see Blake from being a baby all the way to being a young man, to managing the outside of the plant. And that's the toughest thing, seeing these ladies and these men. I had one of the men come in here today that I hadn't seen in a few months, that used to work for us that we had to lay off, that we're not providing for them. Our company that's provided a career to, that they could raise their families and send their kids to college. I mean, these ladies, these Vietnamese ladies have had their kids that are now doctors, neurosurgeons, attorneys. They're world-renowned. And they were shuckers here. And to have had that ability through their hard work and labor, that made us successful. I miss that about what we used to be here. (Al is pictured with his son, Blake Sunseri.)

To listen to Al's interview, click here.