On Saturday, June 1, our CWPPRA Outreach Coordinator, Jennifer Ritter Guidry, attended the Bayou Culture Collaborative’s Writing on the Bayou workshop at the Terrebonne Parish Library in Gray, LA. Led by Nicholls State University English professor Dr. Michael Martin, the small group of writers shared their background in writing fiction, non-fiction and memoir, poetry and songs. After a discussion of types of writing styles and a brief examination of writing samples, we talked about Louisiana’s landscape and its sensorial aspects, and how to incorporate that in your writing. And then, we wrote about an experience within the Louisiana landscape and read our pieces to the group. Each story captured the essence of the landscape, from one person’s writing nook overlooking the bayou to another’s memory of pulling potatoes and driving the tractor with her father. Here’s Jennifer’s piece.
Louisiana’s landscape is its primary determining factor in all of its development—it drove early peoples to high ground to settle and offered multiple avenues for travel, dictated the types and variety of available food, discouraged European colonists who instead chose to impose control over the environment (New Orleans, anyone?). Landscape allowed for early roads to follow the numerous waterways and determined a mixed system for industry and transport.
The roads today in Lafayette seem to make no sense. The original grid of Vermilionville centered around the church has expanded into a tangled web of roads, intersections, alleys, and absurd traffic. The old joke is that the roads were mapped by a fellow who followed a car as it wandered through the area. In truth, first came the railroad, which avoided traversing the water at all coasts and instead paralleled it. Then came the roads, which had no other alternative than to mirror those riverine twists and turns.
It doesn’t matter where you are in Lafayette, you can always hear the late-night trains blasting through town, whistles at top volume. I grew up near the Vermilion River and as a determinedly introspective teen, my favorite thing to do was to sneak out of my bedroom window in the middle of the night and walk down to the river and watch the mist rising off the water.
In a conference call with our Outreach Committee last week, a committee member reminded us to discuss the human component in our Habitat Toss outreach activity. We’re taking it a step further and turning our focus to various ethnic and cultural groups who settled the Louisiana wetlands and support themselves and their families through coastal industries.
Today, our focus is on the Isleños of Louisiana. During the late eighteenth century, these people originally immigrated to the United States from the Canary Islands, off the west coast of Africa. According to the official website, Los Isleños of St. Bernard Parish, Spain sent settlers from the Canary Islands to settle around New Orleans from 1778 to 1783 in response to British interest in Mexico. Since the Spanish had a large investment already in Mexico, they sent Canarians to establish settlements to counter British expansion towards Mexico, but instead, the new colonists formed communities that built strong ties to existing industry in the area. Four settlements were created by the Spanish for Canarians and other immigrants to live in and develop: Galveztown, Valenzuela, Barataria, and San Bernardo. For the first few years of each settlement, Spain subsidized costs and gave many of these new Canarian colonists (Isleños) land grants. Subsidies stopped in 1785 when the colonies became self-sustaining. San Bernardo became a successful agricultural community, thanks to the fertile soils of the lower Mississippi River Watershed. Under French Rule, the community was later renamed to St. Bernard.
In only seven short years, the Isleños established strong communities which later became major players in sugar, cattle, and several other farm crops. Some Isleños chose to leave their farms and joined the commercial fishing industry in the 1820s, ultimately becoming the Delacroix Island fishing community. Later in the century, the communities of Yscloskey and Shell Beach were founded through the same method.
Today, those communities are still heavily involved in the commercial fishing industry, but their homes are threatened by coastal land loss. CWPPRA has funded the design and implementation of several projects in that area. Though the history of St. Bernard Parish has been preserved for generations, it would be a tremendous loss to have such a historic area wash away due to preventable causes. It is for this reason that CWPPRA works to #ProtectOurCoast.
Find out more about the Islenos and their coastal legacy through the Los Isleños Heritage and Cultural Society website: http://www.losislenos.org/.