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Introduction. When examining the history of the Louisiana French, one may wonder why the Louisiana Creoles have been marginalized by scholars, and why no extensive study of the group has been done before now. One reason may well be the seemingly infinite number of possible definitions of Creole . The Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups explains that the word "refers to people, culture, to food, and music, and to language. Originally from the Portuguese crioulo, the word for a slave brought up in the owner's household, which in turn probably derived from the Latin creare (create), it became criollo in Spanish and creole in French."1 This encyclopedia's definition of Creole as it refers to Louisiana is worth noting in its entirety: Louisianians of French and Spanish descent began referring to themselves as Creoles following the Louisiana Purchase (1803) in order to distinguish themselves from the Anglo-Americans who started to move into Louisiana at this time. The indigenous whites adopted the term, insisting, most unhistorically, that it be applied exclusively to them. The life of this dying group is depicted in George Washington Cable's Old Creole Days (1879) and in some of the works of Lafcadio Hearn. In the United States, in the zoth century, Creole most often refers to the Louisiana Creoles of color. Ranging in appearancefrom mulattos to northern European whites, the Creoles of color constitute a Caribbean phenomenon in the United States. The product of miscegenation in a seigneurial society, they achieved elite status in Louisiana, and in the early ipth century some were slaveholders. Many, educated in France, were patrons of the opera and of literary societies. A description of their lives is provided by Alice Dunbar-Nelson in the Alice Dunbar i. Stephan Thernstrom, ed., Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980),247. xiii INTRODUCTION Nelson Reader (1979) and Rodolphe Lucien Desdunes's Nos hommes et noire histoire (1911; English translation, 1978). Francis J. Woods tells the life story of one extended family in Marginality and Identity: A Colored Creole Family Through Ten Generations (1972). Louisiana Creoles of color thus constitute a self-conscious group, who are perceived in their locale as different and separate. They live in New Orleans and in a number of other bayou towns. Historically they have been endogamous, and until late in the i9th century spoke mostly French. Perhaps the best-known Creole of color is the jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton, whose own social status must have been marginal in Creole society. Overwhelmingly Catholic, the New Orleans Creoles usually attend parochial schools; Xavier University is closely associated with them. Their ethnicity is exceedingly difficult to maintain outside the New Orleans area. Over time, a great many have passed into white groups in other parts of the country, and others have become integrated as blacks. This latter choice is not based wholly on appearance, for many Creoles who choose to identify as Afro-Americans are white in appearance.2 In White by Definition, Virginia Domfnguez discusses the idea of social status defined by the terms of identity used in Louisiana as well as in the United States as a whole. This is, of course, a crucial issue in any examination of Creoles, and her concluding comments should be considered when formulating a definition of Louisiana Creole: The long history of slaveryin the United States and of white ownership of African slavesleft in Louisiana, as in other parts of the United States, a traditional association of whites with upper status and of blacks with lower status. To white Creoles today the mere suggestion of possible African ancestry invokes a lowering of social and economic status for the people in question. To colored or black Creoles, on the other hand, the claim of at least a partial European ancestry accords the group in question a status (or an expectation of status) higher than that accorded to "pure" blacks.Moreover, to colored or black Creoles the association with early European settlers in Louisiana signals a tie to the state's "old families" and,by extension, higher status. Thus to identify someone as Creole is to invoke in the course of a particular conversation historically linked connotations of social and economic status. But this is not to say just that "ethnic" identities have status connotations; it is to say that 2. Ibid. xiv INTRODUCTION New Orleanians' perception of status, of how things used to be and how in their opinion they ought to...


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