The Isleños
December 7, 2008 7:12 PM   Subscribe

The Isleños are said to be a dying traditional American subculture. Descendants of Canary Island immigrants of Louisiana, the name Isleños was given to them to distinguish them from Spanish mainlanders, known as "peninsulares." But in Louisiana, the name evolved from a category to an identity. For a long time they were one of those rare subcultures that found a way to maintain a living tradition as the world around them modernised by carving out a livelihood as crabbers and 'shrimpers'. Then Katrina hit and the wetlands, which were central to the Isleños identity, essentially dissapeared. Despite the blow to their economy, they still have their songs and annual fiestas, evidence of a strong culture which binds their community together, and their rebuilding following Katrina demonstrated how strong that sense of identity and culture can be. So perhaps the Isleños shouldn't be written off just yet, then. After all, as Isleño Irvan Perez says, "This is home. Where else would we go?"
posted by Effigy2000 (7 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Good stuff Effigy2000. It might be worth noting that Chalmette is the Parish seat of St Bernard Parish where one of the defining battles of the War of 1812 of fought.
posted by adamvasco at 1:36 AM on December 8, 2008

Great post, I knew nothing about these people. Their fate reminds me of the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq.
posted by languagehat at 8:13 AM on December 8, 2008

Good post. There are also a couple of Croatian communities down around Empire and Buras, also shrimpers and crabbers.

In my experience, Cajun and maybe Louisiana culture generally has been a powerful assimilator of other cultures. There are people with surnames Abdallah, Waguespack and Rodriguez in Lafayette who are not only indistinguishable from other Cajuns, but may not really realize their ancestors were Lebanese Muslim, German and Spanish respectively.
posted by atchafalaya at 10:02 AM on December 8, 2008

Thanks for the post. Oddly enough I was at the site of their cultural center, which they are just starting to rebuild, day before yesterday.
They are a fun bunch of people who really enjoy life so I give them as good a chance as any subculture of keeping their identity.
The are one of the sponsors of a parade that "consisted of 48 floats and over 2000 total riders and about 300,000 lbs. of produce..." and was hilarious. In addition to beads they were throwing carrots, potatoes, cabbage, toys, kitchen utensils and other items.
posted by vapidave at 10:24 AM on December 8, 2008

For the record, I am of some Isleño extraction, and carry a very popular Isleño surname. My forebears were actually polyglots, speaking Spanish at home, French with neighbors, and English when they went to town/market.

Damn shame now, is that I speak English with a ridiculous Southern accent.
posted by The Giant Squid at 11:06 AM on December 8, 2008

On top of that, my mother is in fierce denial about my Canary Islands heritage. In her mind, Spanish == Mexican. She actually paid a hack genealogist many years ago, who uncovered a tenuous link between Alsace-Lorraine, and, now, in my mom's mind, she can feel comfortable in knowing that she married not some gent of Latino extraction, but rather, a proud, tall French-German.

Gah, racism, even against your own.
posted by The Giant Squid at 11:10 AM on December 8, 2008

Seconding atchafalaya. I always thought it surprising the number of Lebanese people (like Richard Ieyoub) who are so firmly rooted in Cajun identity that we just assume that somehow they must be French.
posted by The Giant Squid at 11:19 AM on December 8, 2008

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