A Creole melting pot: the politics of language, race, and\ud identity in southwest Louisiana, 1918-45
Southwest Louisiana Creoles underwent great change between World Wars I and II as they confronted American culture, people, and norms. This work examines that cultural transformation, paying particular attention to the processes of cultural assimilation and resistance to the introduction and imposition of American social values and its southern racial corollary: Jim Crow. As this work makes clear, the transition to American identity transmuted the cultural foundations of French- and Creole-speaking Creole communities. World War I signalled early transformative changes and over the next three decades, the region saw the introduction of English language, new industries, an increasing number of Protestant denominations, and the forceful imposition of racialized identities and racial segregation. Assimilation and cultural resistance characterized the Creole response, but by 1945, southwest Louisiana more closely resembled much of the American South. Creole leaders in churches, schools, and the tourism industry offered divergent reactions; some elite Creoles began looking to Francophone Canada for whitened ethnic identity support while others turned toward the Catholic establishment in Baltimore, Maryland to bolster their faith. Creoles were not the only distinct community to undergo Americanization, but Louisiana Creoles were singular in their response. As this study makes clear – in ways no historian has previously documented – Louisiana Creoles bifurcated as a result of Americanization. This study also contributes to, and broadens, the literature on Acadian identity. Previously, scholars simply assumed that whitened Latins in Louisiana had always identified with Acadia and their black-racialized brethren with Haiti. This thesis, however, suggests that Cajun and Creole are not opposites. Rather, they derive from the same people and culture, and their perceived and articulated difference emerged in response to Americanization. Through a critical analysis of that bifurcation process, this thesis demonstrates how Acadianized identity and culture emerged in the first half of the 20th century.