Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Act One - Awakening

They say falling in love changes your life. However, I never expected it to change the world. A little over a year ago I met and fell madly in love with a New Orleans Creole. A near replica of my late mother in looks, he charmed me completely with his genteel manner, fun-loving spirit and dedication to Creole culture.

As he and his family began to accept me into the fold and share their traditions with me, I began to examine my own history – and lack thereof. What was so different about these people? Other French Creole friends of mine, New Orleanian and Haitian, also shared family bonds an
d traditions that were far more cohesive than my own. I suspected that it had something to do with the French connection and set out to find just what that thing was.

Frankly this connection didn’t surprise me so much, as France has enjoyed a kind of favored nation status within the African American arts community for its acceptance of our greatest artists when our o
wn country did not. But the link between the French and Africans here in our own country I think is less well known.

One upside of Hurricane Katrina, if there could be one, was the reintroduction into the American mainstream of New Orleans’ unique centuries old tradition of race mixing. The inference of course is that plenty of miscegenation had been goin’ on, and not just of the white master raping the black slave variety that lurks unresolved in the imaginations of contemporary Americans, both black and white.

Creoles are a special bunch because they are heirs to an atypically enlightened view of interracial relationship that was squelched by the Louisiana Purchase and did not have a resurgence until after the Civil Rights Movement. If the French and the Africans could love each other under those circumstances, then maintaining familial unity over petty internecine rivalries must be a no brainer for their offspring.

I was about to leave it at that when I learned that the Spanish controlled Louisiana for a period of 40 years (1763 - 1803) before ceding it back to the French - who then sold it to the Brits (Americans) a year later in the Louisiana Purchase. Interestingly enough it was actually under Spanish rule that the gens de couleur libre grew from 3% to 20% of the total population of New Orleans. Turns out the French weren’t so damned special after all!

Why d
idn’t I remember any of this stuff from my US history classes? Intrigued, I decided that I would need to dig deeper. Maybe Virginia, where my family hails from, had more complex race relations during its pre Civil War period, too.

These series of posts are dedicated to the ‘finest woman in East Elmhurst’ of her day, my mother Kathlean Elizabeth Barnes. I am bold because she could not be.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i love you, Girl! Keep digging, keep revealing their stories and they will protect you. I know this for true. Faith--Kib