Coastal Cultures: Isleños

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/.