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The Joys of Art

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

My Cultural Gumbo

People might wonder why I am so intense about the "cultural" side of things....Because I like thousands of Louisianians have been displaced from Louisiana even if my times were just short periods...I remember back in 1999 when the internet was not vast as it is now and being stationed in North Carolina I couldn't get all the delicious comforts that I could being in Louisiana....Now don't get me wrong I loved my time in N.C. as the people there are wonderful people....I could even enjoy boiled crawfish, jazz and beer on Sundays at a place that brewed their own beer....Shouts out to Fayetteville, North Carolina!!!! One of the few websites that had links to streaming websites was Chuck Taggart's but the live streams were not as proficient and lacked the quality that they do today....Nowdays everyone is streaming something....So that is why I post so much in my sidebar and it is to help displaced and dispossessed peoples from Louisiana who just can't come home right now....I know it is tough and in fact I slept in my house for about a week with no electricity after Rita hit just to sleep in my own bed but I worked nights so that wasn't so bad (Yes this was after I had evacuated for 8 days so there you go FEMA)....Many folks are still states and thousand of miles away and their only sources of information about Louisiana are still slim and none....So many are lucky to have access to the public library's computer so I am trying to provide aa effort to bring concentrated information to them...Even if they only get to listen to just one live streaming blues, zydeco or jazz song from a link that I provided to them on my weblog before logging off their access acount at the public library....We can all thank Chuck Taggart for providing the example even back in 1999...I was very impressed with his Cajun/Creole Recipe Page....In fact Chuck has been weblogging longer than I have....I really do have this feeling after reading his weblog and devouring his site that he is an INFP also.....Anyway, thanks Chuck....And thank you Louisiana just for allowing me to partake of all that you have to give.....:o) Yeah I know that sounds maudlin......:o)

Cultural revival is essential to recovery too


When disaster struck the Gulf Coast community, the human and financial tolls exacted were staggering. So, too, was the cultural toll.
As families from Biloxi to Tougaloo cared for their loved ones and took stock of their personal losses, communities also began looking at the cultural heritage that had been destroyed or been put at risk of being lost forever: the millions of documents, artifacts, books and works of art that for centuries have been central to this region's unique identity.
It doesn't take a bureaucrat from Washington to tell the people of Mississippi the importance of place to one's cultural identity. A state tourism guide in 1949 referred to the Mississippi Delta as being less a geographical unit than a whole way of life.

Within days of Katrina's wrath, the National Endowment for the Humanities authorized the award of $30,000 to the state humanities councils in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and made available $1 million in emergency humanities grants to help museums, libraries, historical societies and cultural agencies salvage and preserve what was nearly lost. In December, we released an additional $250,000. In all, more than 30 grants have been awarded, 14 of them here in the Magnolia State.
Here's how some of NEH's emergency grants are helping:
At the Biloxi Public Library, funds are being used to clean and restore local artifacts, books and historic documents. Elsewhere, they're helping restore and preserve the irreplaceable collections of Jefferson Davis's Beauvoir, and conserve damaged American art at the William Carey College's Sarah Gillespie Gallery. The Department of Archives and History is using its grant money to help three small communities ravaged by wind and water - Bay St. Louis, Waveland, and Pass Christian -to save the only existing papers documenting their civic and public history.
And just last month, NEH issued our third $30,000 grant to the Mississippi Humanities Council, which is serving as a clearinghouse of information and distributing funds to the communities hardest hit.

The Mississippi Humanities Council, led by Barbara Carpenter, executive director, and Willis Lott, MHC chair and president of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, deserve all our gratitude for never veering off course in their mission - to keep this state's rich stories and traditions accessible to all Mississippians. Many of these folks have lost their own homes and livelihoods. Yet, they have shown how a small organization with strong-willed, talented people can mount an effective response to help meet the vital needs of communities.

Earlier this week, I toured the state with Barbara, visiting communities and seeing first-hand the progress that's being made, and gauging what assistance is still needed. We will be announcing that the NEH will provide a round of smaller Preservation Assistance Grants, of up to $5,000, to help small cultural institutions get back on their feet. NEH is also sponsoring a nationwide conference through the nonprofit Heritage Preservation organization to take the lessons we've learned from Katrina and Rita, and help train librarians, archivists, and curators to preserve their collections and prepare for future disasters.

Last fall, as the rebuilding process was just starting, Barbarasent me an email, in which she spoke of the devastation many communities had seen, of the staff members displaced, out of work, living in cars and shelters, and of the priceless parts of our past that overnight were reduced to memories. In the midst of all this, Barbara cited a spirit and sense of giving that never faltered among her employees, volunteers, and counterparts in neighboring states. She wrote of a meeting she organized in Hattiesburg to bring together cultural and historical agencies with people who could provide technical and funding support. Hoping for 50 to 60 folks at that meeting, Barbara instead got 96, and the beginning of some lasting relationships.

"What we have confirmed," she wrote, "is that state councils are uniquely positioned to take leadership roles in crisis and disaster situations. We can immediately...act as a center. We can seek and distribute special funds, and serve as information clearinghouses. The immediate sense of renewed community that arose at that meeting can potentially have long-lasting, very positive effects.
"But in truth," she concluded, "this recovery, if indeed possible, will be a very long, very difficult process, fraught with economic, moral, ethical, practical, philosophical, and ultimately political issues."

The network news has moved on to newer, fresher stories. But we don't have that luxury, for this isn't a problem that's going away anytime soon. It will keep us occupied for years to come. And it is incumbent on all of us as public servants to see that this cultural rebuilding continues. Too much is at stake.

Bruce Cole is chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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By Gillian Flaccus

12:18 a.m. September 7, 2005

LOS ANGELES – Wilda Little speaks Creole with her cousin two or three times a week and listens to her favorite zydeco bands on aging vinyl records, but that's about as close as the Louisiana transplant gets these days to the Creole culture of her youth.
Little, 80, is one of the last standard-bearers of the once-vibrant Louisiana Creole community in Los Angeles that has faded a little more each year as the zydeco dance halls shut down and native Creole speakers died.

Now, after Hurricane Katrina dealt a devastating blow to New Orleans and its teeming culture, Creoles who left decades ago are vowing to preserve their endangered language and music.

"The parents who moved here have all passed on, and the kids of these families did not keep up the traditions," said B.J. Deculus, a Creole-speaker who founded the Bonne Musique Zydeco band in 1992 in Los Angeles.

"But there are a whole lot of people living here from Louisiana who have a connection to Creole culture. Katrina will have an impact on bringing those people closer together."

The Creole community in Los Angeles is one of the largest in the nation outside Louisiana but has splintered since thousands of people migrated West to escape racism and find jobs after World War II.

No one is sure exactly how many Louisiana Creoles live in greater Los Angeles, but some estimates have put the number as high as 15,000. Louisiana Creoles are loosely defined as people of mixed African, French and American Indian heritage who share a melange of French and African culture.

The U.S. Census indicates more than 41,000 speakers of some form of French Creole, French patois or Cajun lived in Los Angeles County in 2000, but some may be Haitian or West African immigrants.

There are also significant numbers of Louisiana Creoles in Chicago, Detroit and Houston – a transit point for those who migrated to California decades ago, according to Marion Ferreria, 79, who founded the Los Angeles-based Association for the Preservation of Creole Cultural Heritage in 2003.

All those cities will likely grow as hurricane refugees rejoin family and friends and decide to stay.

In Los Angeles, the transplants brought their language and their music – the upbeat pulse of zydeco tunes played on accordions and "rub boards" from the Louisiana flatlands, as well as the jazz of New Orleans.

The first arrivals settled in Central Los Angeles and soon the nearby Roman Catholic parish was holding hopping zydeco concerts featuring Louisiana legends such as Clifton Chenier, the "King of Zydeco," that would draw 600 people a night.

Crenshaw Avenue was soon dotted with Creole-owned restaurants and barber shops and zydeco dances were held almost every weekend in South Pasadena, Gardena and San Diego.

Big-name zydeco bands from southwest Louisiana frequently flew to Los Angeles to play a round of concerts in each city before heading home.

But those who love the music and language say the old traditions started fading two decades ago, as the elderly Creoles born in Louisiana began dying without passing on their heritage.

Now, zydeco dances are held once a month or less at an Elks Lodge in Gardena, and it's hard to find a fluent Creole speaker.

To keep the culture alive, Ferreria now holds a Creole picnic in Los Angeles every year and has tried to educate her children and grandchildren about their heritage.

"We are losing the culture and we need to get people back together," she said. "This is an identity we want."

Little, who used to attend zydeco concerts at a Watts church, said her husband never wanted her to speak Creole in the house so her three adult children didn't learn it. "My children were never interested," she said.

The legacy of the heady early days is still reflected in the multiple Creole-themed festivals held around Southern California each year, from the Long Beach Bayou Festival to the Simi Valley Creole-Cajun Music Festival to the best-known of all, the Louisiana to Los Angeles Festival.

Catholic churches in pockets of central Los Angeles – Leimert Park, Jefferson Park and Crenshaw – still draw large numbers of Louisiana Creoles as well. At the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Jefferson Park, for example, nearly half the 1,100-family parish has Creole roots.

Lolita Domingue, 51, moved with her family to Los Angeles from New Orleans in 1955 when she was an infant. She was the last of her siblings to be born there – in a house with no hot running water.

Domingue said she acutely feels the loss of her parents' heritage – so much that she videotaped her mother making gumbo before she died so the recipe wouldn't be lost. Her extended family also started an annual reunion that last year drew 100 relatives to the Los Angeles area.

"We're trying to re-establish those connections because we felt something missing," Domingue, a marriage and family therapist, said from her home in suburban La Verne, about 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

"The generation that we used to collect around, to which we oriented ourselves, are dying," she said.

Ferreria, Deculus and others hope that the tragedy in New Orleans will affect second- and third-generation Creole transplants. Already, there are some signs of renewed interest in the culture.

Deculus' band is booked nearly every weekend in September playing relief concerts around greater Los Angeles.

And Norwood Clark Jr., the owner of Uncle Darrow's Creole and Cajun restaurant in Marina del Rey, says his phone has been ringing nonstop since Katrina struck with offers of help and support.

"We're a part of that culture of New Orleans and now it's gone," he said. "I'm standing on the shoulders of a lot of my kinfolk right now who never made it out. ... No matter how successful you are or you become, you didn't do it by yourself. We have to remember that now."


On the Net:
– Bonne Musique Zydeco Band: www.bonnemusiquezydeco.com


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