Creole, This is who I am

November 15, 2017

Albert Fontenot · Aug 19, 2012

What is a Creole? It depends who you ask. Ask that question to a dozen different people who call themselves Creole, and you are likely to get at least two dozen different answers in almost as many languages. Their responses will vary based on the person's age or where they grew up. The answer will even depend on race. Even among ethnic Creoles, some identify as White, some Black, some Native American some Hispanic, and some, all of the above.There are two accepted definitions. In the United States, the original meaning of Creole, dating back to the 1700's, was any person of French or Spanish descent who was born in Colonial Louisiana before the Louisiana Purchase. Later, as those Creoles and their progeny would marry or have children with Native Americans and slaves, those children were also referred to as Creoles. In modern times, the two groups are differentiated as French Creole and Louisiana Creole.Their racial identity was a bit more complicated. A Creole person could have a legal status as White, Black, or a Free Person of Color, with their personal rights varying dependent on that status. Their racial classification was based not only upon strictly established ratios of African forebears, but also subjectively upon a person's appearance.It is this fluid sense of self that has made the Creoles a rarity among American ethnic groups . While maintaining an entirely separate and distinct culture of their own, Creoles have still managed to assimilate into American society as a whole.Their impact on popular culture is evident everywhere. All over the nation, people of every race eat Gumbo, Jambalaya, and Shrimp Creole. Churches and dance venues across the South have Zydeco dance nights, with live bands keeping the traditional music alive. There has even been a Grammy award given for best Zydeco Album.There are many famous Creoles. In music, Beyonce' Knowles, Fats Domino, and Clifton Chenier are all Louisiana Creoles. Known as the “Marine's Marine” and the “greatest of all leathernecks”, Lieutenant General John Arthur Lejeune, served as Commandant of the Marine Corps. On television, The Cosby Show had both Phylicia Rashad and Sabrina Le Beauf as mother and daughter.Creoles are even represented in the animated world. On the long-running Fox show, King of the Hill, one of the main characters is “Bill”, or more properly, “Guillaume Fontaine de la Tour Dauterive”, who demonstrates his proficiency in Creole French, despite never having learned it. It is implied that he just instinctively understood his native tongue.For all the inroads that Creoles have made into American society, they have fiercely clung to a strong sense of cultural identity. There is a Creole flag, despite the fact that there never was an actual Creole nation. French and French-based Louisiana Creole are still spoken by over a hundred thousand people in Louisiana and Texas.Perhaps this duality of assimilation and isolationism can be explained by the Creoles own varied racial makeup. In the excellent documentary, "Too White to be Black Too Black to be White", by Maurice M. Martinez, this dual identity is explored. One of the commentators therein was Marianne Jacques Newman, a poetess and educator, and she explained it best:“The Creole is like the prototype of a melting-pot man. He has a little bit of this and a little bit of that. So I think what makes 'Creole' is that you have to recognize that you are part of many ethnicities. You're not totally African-American, you're not totally French, you're not totally Spanish. You're a combination of everything. I think recognizing that diversity is unique, because you say "THIS IS WHO I AM".”

 

 

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