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Louisiana Creoles (French: Créoles de la Louisiane, Louisiana Creole: Moun Kréyòl la Lwizyàn, Spanish: Criollos de Luisiana) are people descended from the inhabitants of colonial Louisiana before it became a part of the United States during the period of both French and Spanish rule. As an ethnic group, their ancestry is mainly of Louisiana French, West African, Spanish and Native American origin. Louisiana Creoles share cultural ties such as the traditional use of the French, Spanish, and Creole languages and predominant practice of Catholicism.The term Créole was originally used by the Louisiana French to distinguish people born in Louisiana from those born elsewhere, thus drawing a distinction between Old-World Europeans and Africans from their Creole descendants born in the New World. The word is not a racial label and does not imply mixed racial origins—people of any race can and have identified as Louisiana Creoles.
Créole was used as an identity in Louisiana from the 18th century onward. After the Sale of Louisiana, the term "Creole" took on a more political meaning and identity, especially for those people of Latinate culture. Whether white or black, these francophone Catholics had a culture that contrasted with the Anglo-Protestant culture of the new American settlers—and their slaves—from the Upper South and the North.
Although Cajuns are often presented as being distinct from the Creoles, this distinction is not historically accurate and may be contested today; people of Cajun ancestry are often listed in historic documents as Creoles. Today, some Louisianians identify exclusively as either Cajun or Creole, while others embrace both identities.
Creoles of French descent, including those of Québécois or Acadian lineage, have historically comprised the majority of white-identified Creoles in Louisiana. Later 19th-century immigrants to Louisiana, such as Irish, Germans and Italians, also married into the Creole group. Most of these immigrants were Catholic.
New Orleans in particular has retained a significant historical population of Creoles of color, a group mostly consisting of free persons of multiracial European, African, and Native American descent. With many Creoles of color having received superior rights and education under Spain & France than did their Anglo-American counterparts, some of the United States' earliest writers, poets and activists of color (e.g. Victor Séjour, Rodolphe Desdunes and Homère Plessy) were Louisiana Creoles. Today, many Creoles of color have assimilated into African-American culture, while others remain a separate yet inclusive subsection of the African-American ethnic group.In the twentieth century, the gens de couleur libres in Louisiana became increasingly associated with the term Creole, in part because Anglo-Americans struggled with the idea of an ethno-cultural identity not founded in race. One historian has described this period as the "Americanization of Creoles," including an acceptance of the American binary racial system that divided Creoles between white and black. (See Creoles of color for a detailed analysis of this event.) Concurrently, the number of white-identified Creoles has dwindled, with many adopting the Cajun label instead.
While the sophisticated Creole society of New Orleans has historically received much attention, the Cane River area in northwest Louisiana—populated chiefly by Creoles of color—also developed its own strong Creole culture.
Today, most Creoles are found in the Greater New Orleans region or in Acadiana. Louisiana is known as the Creole State.