Table of Contents

Louisiana Folklife: An Introduction

Louisiana Folklife: An Introduction, Nicholas R. Spitzer

Ethnicity, Region, Occupation and Family

Ethnicity, Region, Occupation and Family: The Social Contexts for Louisiana Folklife, Nicholas R. Spitzer
Creolization and Ethnicity, Joseph V. Guillotte, III
South Louisiana: Unity and Diversity in a Folk Region, Nicholas R. Spitzer
The Regional Folklife of North Louisiana, Susan Roach-Lankford
Louisiana Children's Folklore, Jeanne Soileau

Folklife and Public Policy

Public Sector Attention to Folklife in the United States, Archie Green
Folklife and Public Policy In Louisiana
A Folklife Plan for the State of Louisiana, F. A. de Caro
Folklife and Education, C. Paige Gutierrez
Folklife and the Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism
Office of Cultural Development: Division of the Arts, Louisiana Folklife Program, Division of Historic Preservation, Division of Archeology
Office of State Museum
Office of Tourism
Office of State Parks
Office of the State Library


1. Resources in Research, Preservation, and Presentation of Louisiana Folklife
2. Doctoral Dissertations/Masters Theses Relevant to Louisiana Folklife
3. Film and Video on Louisiana Folklife
4. Louisiana Folk Music on Sound Recordings
5. Louisiana Festivals -- Traditional and Otherwise
6. Louisiana State Documents Relevant to Folklife
7. Oral History and Folklife
8. Louisiana Folklife Legislation/Louisiana Folklife Commission
9. Louisiana Folklife Survey

Ethnicity, Region, Occupation and Family: The Social Contexts for Louisiana Folklife

By Nicholas R. Spitzer

This essay originally appeared in Folklife in Louisiana: A Guide to the State published by the Office of Cultural Development in 1985. This essay is provided online courtesy of the editor since the publication is out of print.


Girls playing Mizz Brown, New Orleans. Photograph: Jeanne Soileau.

Traditional culture is shared within social groups. These might be communities in one locality, such as those found in a lumber camp, a cluster of hill farmsteads, an urban ethnic neighborhood, or an extended family. On the other hand, they may be dispersed over a large area or region such as French Louisiana, the Florida Parishes, Barataria Bay, or the Atchafalaya Basin. Members of such regional groups may not know one another personally, but they can recognize those who live in an area and share in the culture of the region or subregion. It should also be noted that ethnic groups in particular often consciously utilize their traditional cultural materials, be they foodways, language, occupations, or music, to symbolize their culture to other groups in the region or to those who are outsiders in a broader sense. Indeed folklorists and anthropologists have often focused specifically on traditional practices that groups use to represent their sense of belonging to a culture. However, when groups consciously examine and present their traditional arts and other activities, a basic question can be raised. If traditional culture is used to symbolize who they are, is it still traditional? If Cajuns hold "Cajun Day" or a "Crawfish Festival," is this practice part of their traditional culture or is it what they are choosing to say about their traditional culture--that once existed--to the outsider as well as themselves? The opposite case would be people who live so traditionally that they do not view their culture as unique or in need of special celebration, as in the case of some elderly, rural whites and blacks in Louisiana. Finally, there are those traditional groups such as Italians who have long celebrated their ethnicity as well as the importance of family and community groups, as a matter of course, during St. Joseph rituals. That is, these people, though long in contact with larger society, still follow the traditional holiday and practices as part of their own culture as well as a symbol of groupness to the larger society. Most public expressions of folklife today include varying degrees of tradition, self-consciously revived or unconsciously carried on.

In the three essays that immediately follow, ethnic groups and their traditions are discussed. Rosan Jordan deals with the social and theoretical aspects of ethnicity in relation to folklife in general. In reading her comments it may be useful to remember that all that is ethnic is not “folk.” Indeed much ethnic culture in America is the product of highly literate people, many of whom pay homage to their folk traditions, especially the arts, but do not carry on the oral and other traditions of folk culture. At the same time if one accepts that any group can share a “folklore, ”then even elite groups have traditions, from Mardi Gras balls to haute cuisine.

The essays that follow Dr. Jordan's are about New Orleans by two native New Orleanians. As such they focus on one ofthe most ethnically unique cities in America and the world. New Orleans as an international Caribbean-Gulf Coast port has received diverse immigrants from Europe, Africa, Latin America, and the interior of the United States since its founding in 1718. Dr. George Reinecke is a Harvard-trained medievalist of European Creole descent. In addition to chronicling the ethnohistory of the city into the twentieth-century, Dr. Reinecke also asserts that New Orleans natives as a whole, whatever their particular ethnic background, have forged a citywide cultural identity through a process of creolization, whereby they may be considered an ethnic group when compared to the cultural values of mainstream America. The final essay on ethnicity, followed by a bibliography of New Orleans ethnic culture, is by Dr. Joseph V. Guillotte III, a professor of anthropology and native of the 9th Ward. Dr. Guillotte focuses on the ethnic mix of New Orleans today and how the process of cultural mingling over time has led to the creolized identity of the present day. The maintenance and breaking of ethnic boundaries is also discussed. The study of kinship and genealogy is especially significant to anthropologists. People often use genealogies to reconstruct personal and group history in a way that reflects favorably upon their past and present status. Looking at this process is as important as the attempt at objective reconstruction of a family history. As the kinship chart in the article shows, many New Orleanians have a wide variety of ethnic groups in their ancestry; therefore, family and ethnic folklife are heavily intertwined. The folklife of ethnic groups in Louisiana can be explored in any number of urban and rural set tings. These model articles should inspire similar work in Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Shreveport, Monroe, and Alexandria, among other cities. All are greatly in need of more understanding of their ethnic cultural traditions. Later essays in this section will deal with ethnicity in rural and regional settings.