- Louisiana Creoles: Cultural Recovery and Mixed-Race Native American Identity
"Who is white?" Jolivétte asks in the first chapter of his recent Louisiana Creoles, posing a controversial question that concerns both racial and ethnic identity. Part of the issue, he states, is a matter of family history, and the other is based on choice. Here he explores ideas about racial and ethnic identity, mixing and definition. At its core the book discusses the internal struggle of Louisiana Creoles with mixed heritage to define themselves among family and friends, within local [End Page 577] communities, and among Americans at large. The author then explores how members of Creole communities have fought to acknowledge their unique blend of cultural traditions and heritage, particularly by including Native American lineage, to forge a multiracial ethnic identity and why they choose to define themselves as such.
The study approaches questions about race, ethnicity, and choice both sociologically and anthropologically. Jolivétte includes portions of his research tools in the appendices. These include a survey, interview questions, and a list of Creole organizations, periodicals, and Web sites, all of which give the reader a glimpse into his methodology. Often, the author claims, self-identification with a particular group is associated with interests, whether political, religious, economic, or social. Furthermore, ethnic communities look to develop means of cultural identification through shared culture and history. Jolivétte argues that an examination of considerations about "who is white" among Creoles portrays how and why members of that community define themselves and other members and act in particular ways. Creoles have had a particularly difficult time defining their ethnic identity, the author continues, because members are not biracial but rather multiracial.
The book consists of six chapters, including an introduction and a conclusion. The primary themes prevalent throughout concern introducing and including Indian lineage and culture into a new vision of Creole identity and the preservation of that identity. According to Jolivétte, the definition of who is Creole did not begin to include Indian ancestry until after 1915, and even then the law did not specifically distinguish between African Americans and Creoles with Indian lineage. Post-1915 the issue of blood quantum caused chaos for individuals who identified as Indian, African American, or other.
Clearly, the political struggle of mixed-race individuals has been a difficult one. Jolivétte presents his most intriguing ideas in chapters 3 and 4, where he discusses the transformation identity among Louisiana Creoles. He states that Native cultural patterns have persisted within Creole communities and argues that social interaction and behavior are influenced by various cultural elements that have been incorporated into a multiethnic culture by racial mixing. Unfortunately, this topic deserves greater expatiation, and a thorough examination of different cultural elements from different ethnic groups that survived, changed, and have been used by Creoles to define themselves as Creole rather than Indian, African American, and so on would have benefited the work as a whole. Of particular note, Jolivétte discusses dance and identification with clan-based structures in chapter 4, but the references are brief and tease the reader into wanting more.
The transformation of identity still has not reached completion. Jolivétte notes, for example, that his own father's family was of mixed ancestry despite [End Page 578] the fact that his aunts and cousins identified themselves as white during the 1980s and 1990s. For Jolivétte, law, biology, and personal motivation, appearing in the book as external forces, often determine ethnic identity more than cultural practices, controlled within the community or by the individual. Louisiana Creoles does prove a useful book for examining why individuals identify themselves among family members, publicly and politically, if not always culturally, and provides a starting point for other works on multiethnic identity.