Document Type

Research Paper

Publication Date

2016

Abstract

Using the author’s experience this past summer living in New Orleans and working at l’Alliance Française de la Nouvelle-Orléans (a French cultural center in town) as a jumping-off point, this essay explores the birth and evolution of the city under French colonization. During her two-month stay, the author observed that l’Alliance seemed to attract mainly wealthier, white New Orleans residents; this limited interest seemed strange not only considering the incredible racial and socioeconomic diversity of the city, but also given that New Orleans’ French heritage seemed prevalent in the physical and cultural structure of the city.

To tackle the question as to why this embrasure of the town’s French roots seemed so uncommon, this essay returned to the notion of “Creolization.” Indicating the adaptation of European, African, and Asian cultures to the New World, “Creolization” also speaks to the inevitable cultural synthesis that occurs between them, once living in close proximity. This essay follows the creation of New Orleans as the main port of a new French colony, discussing the adaptation of the French & Canadian colonists, as well as the African slaves, once they arrived to the New World and began interacting with the local American Indians. Once addressing how each population individually adapted to their new environment, the essay then explores the mixing of these groups’ cultural traditions, specifically through the evolution of food and language, which have come to serve as foundations for New Orleans’ culture present today.

After establishing the Creoleness of the city, the author then returns to her observations while at l’Alliance. If embracing French heritage did not seem effective in unifying the community due to its inherent cultural complexity, what would be an effective approach? A potential answer came in the form of Arnaudville, LA, a small, rural town outside of New Orleans. During a weekend visit, several of its citizens explained how the community collectively decided to brand themselves as a “Creole Town.” This agreement, they said, allowed them to embrace the diversity of backgrounds in the town, most of which were French-speaking of some sort, while simultaneously creating a space for all its citizens. Their “Table Française,” or “French Table,” became a gathering place where, “Tout le français, c’est le bon français. / All French is good French,” reflecting the Creole roots of the Louisiana colony as a whole. While this essay acknowledges the limitations of comparing a small town to the much larger, and much more diverse city of New Orleans, there is emphasis on the potential benefit of Arnaudville’s model. Rather than focus solely on its French heritage, perhaps New Orleans’ embrasure of its own Creoleness might help its citizens to create a cohesive community across racial and socioeconomic boundaries.

Department

French and Francophone Studies

Torrey Smith_Harrison Symposium Speech.pdf (85 kB)
Torrey Smith Harrison Symposium Speech