Research Paper: Creoles Professionals Involved in Therapy

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Tocqueville returned to France a committed abolitionist, and was one of the leaders of the emancipation movement that finally ended slavery in all French colonies in 1848. He also insisted that blacks receive full "civil equality" once they were freed, and the Creoles of color in New Orleans were highly influenced by his views and pursued the same goals during and after the Civil War (Hirsh and Logsdon, p. 10).

In the 19th Century, a new Creole mythology developed in which the term was no longer applied to anyone except whites of non-Anglo ancestry who were natives of Louisiana. Within this new racial orthodoxy, blacks or mixed-race persons were denied the right to be known as Creoles at all (Tregle, 1992, p. 131). This also happened in Latin America at the same time, but the original meaning of Creole was an African slave born in the Americas (Hall, p. 61). After the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and the great influx of Anglo-Americans, Creole generally came to mean the descendants of the original inhabitants of the state, and often the aristocratic planters who spoke French and disdained the ignorant "Kaintucks" (Kentuckians) and "crabbed, skinflint Yankee tradesmen" who poured in by the thousands to seek their fortunes (Tregle, p. 134). Members of the Creole elite would not socialize with the newcomers, and in contrast to the greedy and vulgar Americans, Creole ladies were supposed to be "paragons of gentility, style, and grace, matrons ruling as arbiters of all the nuances of polite society" (Tregle, p. 136). Even at that time, the Americans called the French "frogs" and there were riots and conflicts even over issues like whether French or English music should be played at dances. In the end, the Creoles were able to retain the Civil Law of France and the use of French in the public schools, and also lived separately from the Americans in New Orleans in the famous French Quarter (Dominquez, 1997, p. 112).

Almost all of the governors of Louisiana in 1812-60 were French-speaking Creoles as were the mayors of New Orleans, and the French still insisted on celebrating July 14th as a holiday instead of July 4th and Washington's Birthday, much to the consternation of the Americans. Few Anglo-Americans ever called themselves Creoles, even when they were born in Louisiana, and the term always referred to those who spoke French and identified with French history and culture. Even so, after the Civil War, the mixed African and Native American ancestry of the Creoles was 'whitewashed', although as late as 1906 there were still Supreme Court cases in Louisiana to determine whether the term "creole" always referred to those with "pure white" ancestry. As Virginia Dominguez noted, "how is it possible for there to be no clear consensus about the racial identity of the Creole population in a state as persistent as Louisiana in defining its racial status?" (Dominguez, p. 95).

In antebellum Louisiana, Creoles of color were equal to whites in legal status, and often engaged in trades like carpentry, blacksmithing, small trading and shoemaking. Culturally and linguistically, they identified with the French rather than the Anglo-Americans, attended church in Creole parishes. Free Creoles of color were often educated in France, attended Xavier University in New Orleans, and often had "white appearances" (Kein, p. xiii). They tended to "marry one another, and, to a remarkable degree, only one another," usually through arranged marriages" (Dormon, 1996, p. 167). After the Civil War, they lost much of their property and social status, but still retained their identity and cultural distinctiveness from 'blacks'. Creoles with black ancestry suffered from disenfranchisement and Jim Crow segregation, however, which is why they often took a very prominent part in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s (Dormon, p. 169). Well into the 1970s, they still felt highly distinct from both blacks and whites, and often commented that "whites think we're black, and blacks think we're stuck up." On 1977, for example, Nicholas Spitzer found the Creoles in rural southern Louisiana still had clubs that seemed "upper class and color conscious," and that they disliked 'blacks' from the larger cities and towns (Dormon, p. 171).

Creole culture is still very much alive in rural southern Louisiana, and has its own music in French, magazines like Bayou Talk, and Creole flags, pins and prayers (Kein, p. xvi). As Gwendolyn Midlo Hall wrote, "its creativity, intelligence, biting wit, joyfulness, poetic strain and reverence for beauty make this culture inherently attractive" (Hall, p. 87). It has retained its distinctive tradition of jokes, myths, legends, folk tales and oral history, such as animal tales in the African and West Indian style, told in French. For example, one Creole tale tells of a lazy cricket that enjoys playing the accordion while his ant neighbor literally works himself to death night and day. In this case, of course, the ant represents the Anglo-Americans (Ancelet, 1994, p. xxii). In these stories, the rabbit, fox and turtle are clever, the wolves and bears ignorant, and the spiders and monkeys evil, which is part of the mixture of African and French cultural traditions. West African and Native American stories also had many shape-shifter and Trickster stories that found their way into Creole culture, as well as long and complicated magic tales, although these are rarely heard today (Ancelet, p. xxix).

Carnival or Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is also celebrated in Gulf Coast cities like Biloxi, New Orleans and Mobile as well as in the Creole areas of southern Louisiana, especially the small towns. This tradition dates back to medieval France where "revelers traveled through the countryside offering some kind of performance in exchange for gifts" (Spitzer, 1996, p. 87). Creole culture places particular emphasis on 'respect' or respectability, while men seeking a 'reputation' fall outside this norm. Respectability is associated with "home life, land ownership, family bonds, hard work, devout Catholicism, and self-improvement," with women dutifully performing domestic tasks and men participating in cooperative labor parties or coup de main (Spitzer, p. 88). Men of 'reputation' often pursue lower-class careers like truck driver, seasonal laborer, construction worker, or employment in the oil fields, and are known for drinking, gambling and carousing, and are often called cannais (tricky), une fou (a fool) or couyon (stupid). Their behavior is not considered 'respectable' when it is "too rough, rowdy, drunken, or otherwise lacking politesse (politeness)" (Spitzer, p. 89).

After New Orleans was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, many Americans from all over the country fretted that this unique city might never be rebuilt or even if it was it would still lose all of its authentic cultural traditions that had always made it so distinctive. No one could have failed to notice that during the storm, "the vast majority of the people left behind in New Orleans were poor, African-American and elderly," which "exposed the fault lines of race and class', not only in Louisiana but in the entire country (Gotham, 2007, p. 1). Tourists from all over the world going back to Tocqueville's time:

Became fascinated by the strong sense of place identity that seemed to radiate through the city's neighborhoods and institutions, despite the trenchant inequalities and antagonisms that everyday life….One of the most recognized terms that residents used to describe New Orleans is "authentic," an undefined, elusive referent that nevertheless makes up this city's everyday vocabulary. New Orleans is a place of distinctive authenticity…because of the unique "culture" that has developed over the centuries. The central components of this unique culture include jazz music and jazz funerals, creole cuisine, French and Spanish architecture, streetcars, historic neighborhoods, multiplicities of festivals like Mardi Gras, and famous cemeteries -- the "cities of the dead," where bodies are buried above the ground.[footnoteRef:3] [3: Gotham, p. viii.]

To be sure, part of this 'authentic' image of New Orleans was always manufactured for tourists going back to the 19th Century, and this became internationalized after World War II. Allen Eshew worried that whatever was truly authentic and unique about the city would disappear, and that "the dark history will be buried, along with the black bodies. And that means a lot of black culture will be buried along with it" (Gotham, p. 2). If the city were rebuilt, it would end up looking like Houston, or even worse, Las Vegas or Disneyland, and end up homogenized and prepackaged like the rest on the country.

In New Orleans, the traditional Creole and African-American practice has been the jazz funeral, although the scale of the disaster after Hurricane Katrina generally made this impossible. This custom in New Orleans is unique in the United States and is based on traditions brought from Africa by the slaves in the 18th Century. It has even become a tourist attraction for "few cities bury their dead with the high style of this southern city, where a funeral can last a week and feature jazz bands and parades, which draw bigger crowds than weddings." From the time of slavery, these… [END OF PREVIEW]

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