Identification. Black Creole culture in southern Louisiana derives from contact and synthesis in the region over nearly three centuries between African slaves, French and Spanish colonists, gens libres de couleur (free people of color), Cajuns, and Indians, among others. Today, people in this dominantly African-French population have a range of ethnic styles and associations depending upon residence, family history, Economic status, and perceived ancestry. Creole culture shows syncretism in areas such as folk Catholicism (home altars, voodoo, and traiteurs, or "traditional healers"), language use (French Creole), music/dance (New Orleans jazz and zydeco), the festival observed (Mardi Gras), and foodways (congris, jambalaya, gumbo). As a result of the internal cultural diversity and overlapping boundaries of group affiliation that characterize southern Louisiana society as a whole, Creole ethnic identity is particularly fluid and situation-derived. As Black Creoles gauge their relations to African-Americans, Cajuns, and other Whites (Italian, German, Irish, Isleno, French) among the major ethnic groups in the region, they make multiple group associations and show singular group pride in their diverse heritage. The name "Creole" has a polysemic history, and its meaning remains heavily context-bound to the present. The word derives from the Latin creare (to create) and entered French via Portuguese crioulo in the slave/plantation sphere of West Africa and the tropical New World. In the French colony of Louisiana, it originally referred to European descendants born in the colony. Over time its meaning extended to all people and things of Domestic rather than foreign origin. Today, the old association of "Creole" with strictly European populations of the ancien régime is vestigial—though clung to by some Whites. Although the ethnic meaning of Creole varies in Louisiana, its primary public association is now with people of African-French/Spanish ancestry.
Location. The Creole "homeland" is semitropical French Louisiana in the southern part of the state along the Gulf of Mexico. Creole communities are found in downtown New Orleans neighborhoods; the plantation regions along the Mississippi River to the north and inland bayous, particularly Bayou Teche in Iberia, St. Martin, and St. Landry parishes; and the prairie region of southwest Louisiana, especially including Lafayette, St. Landry, Evangeline, and Calcasieu parishes. The rural southwest portion of this region is also called "Cajun Country" or "Acadiana," names derived from the dominant presence of Cajuns, who were descended ancestrally from French-speaking Acadians of what is now Nova Scotia and were displaced to southern Louisiana in the mideighteenth century. Although many Creoles reject Cajun sociocultural dominance reflected in the naming of the Region, there is no doubt that Cajuns and rural Black Creoles (outside New Orleans) have interacted culturally to a great degree as evidenced in Cajun/Creole music, food, and language. Historic rural outlier settlements are also found on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain and in northern Louisiana in the Cane River area south of Natchitoches. Major twentieth-century migrations have occurred into southeast Texas, particularly Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Houston, where the Fifth Ward is called "Frenchtown." Post-World War II migrants fleeing racial discrimination and seeking Economic opportunity also established major Creole populations in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas.
Demography. Early Louisiana census reports used racial terms like mulâtre and FMC (free man of color) to indicate Black Creoles, but modern population studies do not specifically identify Black Creoles. The 1980 census does note over 250,000 people who speak some form of French or Creole, mostly in southern Louisiana parishes. Judging from the identification of Black population in these parishes, probably one-third of the French speakers are Black Creoles. A much larger number of English-dominant speakers affiliate ethnically as Black Creole in Louisiana, Texas, and California.
Linguistic Affiliation. Historically, three varieties of French in Louisiana have been identified: Colonial/Continental French, Cajun French, and French Creole. Although English is increasingly the dominant language among Creoles under forty, all these language varieties have been and are spoken in different Creole communities today. French Creole historically is a language discrete from French. Also called Gombo and couri-veni (for "to go"/"to come" in contrast to aller and venir of standard and dialectical French), various forms of French Creole originated from Contact pidgin language in the slave/plantation spheres of West Africa and the New World. Louisiana Creole bears parallel and possibly historical relations to similar Creoles spoken in the French Caribbean, French West African, and Indian Ocean areas. As the Creole language expanded from the more limited pidgin form to become a mother tongue, it retained a mostly French lexicon, with African-influenced phonology and a restructured grammar not unlike that of other African-European Creole languages. The stronghold of Creole speaking in southern Louisiana is the plantation region along Bayou Teche, where it is sometimes the first language of Whites as well as Blacks. There are also elder Creole speakers in New Orleans. Cajun French is the most widely spoken French language variety throughout rural southern Louisiana. It is used by Creoles in prairie settlements of southwest Louisiana, though they may speak it with influence from French Creole. Creole and Cajun language use do not correlate to ethnicity on an exact basis. Further, the long-term interaction with and dominance of Cajun French, as well as the larger assimilative tendency of English, have made Creole closer to Cajun French. Colonial/Continental French derives from the speakers of French among colonial settlers, planters, mercantilists, and non-Acadian farmer-laborers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Of the linguistic varieties, this "old Louisiana French" is the least used, although some upper-caste plantation area and urban Creoles speak the language, and its elements are maintained through Catholic schools and French-speaking social clubs in New Orleans.
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