What is the Significance of Louisiana’s Créole Culture Day?
Louisiana Creoles are an ethnic group of people who descend from those born in Colonial Louisiana (which included territories outside of present-day Louisiana). During this time, Louisiana was ruled by France, then Spain, and again by France. It is important to note that the definition of what it means to be a Louisiana Creole may vary based on a person’s upbringing, knowledge, and perspective.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, the ethnic group and term became racialized under America’s racist ideology and Jim Crow laws. In the American mainstream world, Creole became associated with Afro-Creoles, and Cajun (people with Acadian ancestry) became solely associated with white people in South Louisiana.
Neither of those assumptions is true by ancestry nor history when discussing Louisiana Creoles because the population of white Acadian descendants is exaggerated and there are Afro-Creoles/Creoles of Color with Acadian ancestry. Louisiana Creole people are truly a big pot of Louisiana-style gumbo.
This rough transition to becoming Americanized is still a challenge for some Louisianians to this day. Colonial Louisiana was far from perfect with its ideologies and customs, but the diverse communities had a cultural understanding amongst one another, while with the Americans, that was not the case.
Louisiana Creole (Kouri-Vini) is also a language indigenous to Louisiana. The language is currently being revitalized and nurtured by Creolophones and Francophones like Dr. Herbert Wiltz, Taalib Pierre-Auguste, and Creole Polyglot.
Créole Culture Day empowers and reminds Louisiana Creoles to not forget about their family history, language, and culture and to share it with those that are aligned and open-minded.
21st Annual Créole Culture Day
Créole Culture Day is a free annual event that happens in Lafayette, Louisiana at Vermilionville, a cultural heritage center located on the river. The annual event is curated by Vermilionville staff and C.R.E.O.L.E. Inc.
Créole Culture Day is a day when Creoles all over Louisiana gather in the same space, regardless of their race, religion, skin tone, or beliefs. Everyone is family on that day.
According to Vermilionville, their mission is to, “Increase appreciation for the history, culture, and natural resources of the Native Americans, Acadians, Creoles, and peoples of African descent in the Attakapas region through the end of the 1800s.”
The immersed environment of Vermilionville is set up with Creole-cottage-styled homes and architecture with distinct histories, various languages being spoken such as Kouri-Vini and Louisiana French, and lively activities associated with South Louisiana.
The eventful day included live Zydeco music (a Southwest Louisiana-based music genre created by Creoles of Color), artisans showing off their works, historians sharing Louisiana’s Creole history, Creole and Cajun traiteurs (treaters aka faith healers), and so much more. The setting and scenery at Vermilionville feels like a nostalgic yet futuristic Creole fantasy world.
The intense Americanization of Louisiana began in the 20th century. One of the ways America forced its traditions and culture on Louisiana was by bastardizing Louisiana’s French and Creole languages. Students were not allowed to speak in their native tongue at school and were forced to learn and speak English. If they refused, they would be physically or verbally punished.
It felt surreal and somber to understand and witness what Creole children went through to be accepted by the United States of America.
Dr. Herbert warmly shared his knowledge and wisdom about the historical context of that time and the drastic effect this had on South Louisiana linguistically. He said, “South Louisiana and North Louisiana are two different countries.” During this time, the majority of North Louisiana was considered north of the “French triangle.”
Culture bearer organizations like Attakapas Outpost and C.R.E.O.L.E. Inc. were in the building reminding Louisiana Creoles why it is essential to dig deeper into who they are to find their purpose on this Earth.
There was a fun “Sausage Creole” cooking demonstration by, Opelousas native, Louisiana Greedy Girl and she shared a funny boucherie (butchery) story about her introduction to blood boudin, unknowingly, “I think about a boucherie I went to, but prior to that, we had where people would sell boudin, and then my dad would buy [some], then hog head cheese, and everything. Then one time he had a red boudin and he asked if I wanted to try and I said yes, thinking all this time it was just pepper,” she said.
The event was filled with extensive knowledge, culture, history, and wisdom about the Louisiana Creole people. There was so much to explore and digest.
Identifying as Louisiana Creole means one must face history and look at the oppressor and the oppressed in its eyes. This reflection may even jump out of a Creole’s mirror. It is important to be proud of your heritage, but also, to share and learn from it, and to not make the same mistakes as the ancestors.
The Annual Créole Culture Day event takes place every year in June and is open to the public and handicapped accessible. Follow Vermilionville on Facebook and Instagram to stay updated with year-round events.