Creoles of Louisiana’s Southwest: Race, place, and belonging
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While much scholarly attention has focused on Southwestern Louisiana’s white Cajun communities, comparatively few academics have explored the traditions of the Creoles, a mixed-race Francophone group whose members often identify as black. Cajuns and the Creoles have much in common—shared geographic place and a deeply linked history, with much overlap in food and musical traditions—yet prejudice causes cleavages between the two groups, and a lack of attention to Creole lifeways has caused resentment. Discrepancies in the value afforded to Cajun and Creole traditions have risen to the fore in recent debates about limiting or banning Creole cultural activities, primarily recreational horseback riding or “trail-riding,” from certain municipalities. Vociferous public conversations play out in tandem with Creoles continuing to vie for recognition of their heritage and culture on a state, national, and international level on par with that of the Cajuns, whose history and image generate extensive attention and tourist dollars. Black/Creole residents note that their music and foodways have been repackaged as Cajun or subsumed under the Cajun label and that they are unable to take advantage of the benefits that Creole-oriented tourism could bring to a region in which half of the counties are designated "black high poverty parishes." Drawing primarily on the bodies of geographical scholarship on racialization, memorial arenas, public space, and mobility, this thesis brings empirical analysis and social theory to bear on the complex socio-political landscape of Southwestern Louisiana. I use ethnographic methods—structured interviews and participant observation—and archival analysis to explore how identity-affirming activities, such as trail-riding and rural culture broadly constituted, create a space of belonging for Creole-identified community members as well as uphold a link to the ancestral lifeways that structure and support their present-day lives. Despite a lack of mainstream recognition and commemorative silences within the region’s memorial arena that perpetuate a hegemonic social order, Creoles continue to embody their rural French roots, their Western heritage, and their black identity, often simultaneously, demonstrating both their exceptionality and belonging in contemporary Southwestern Louisiana society.