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Most people are probably aware of Louisiana’s early development as a French colony, especially when they think of New Orleans’ French Quarter. But truthfully, the region has one of the most culturally diverse populations in North America. The influences of Indigenous peoples, of enslaved Africans brought by early colonists, and of refugees from the Haitian uprising in the Caribbean are all still felt in the makeup of the population today.
Perhaps one of the lesser known ethnic groups that contributed to the area are the Isleños, thousands of Canary Islanders that founded four settlements around New Orleans during the Spanish period of the late 18th century. The Isleños were participants in the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. They worked on the development of the Higgins Boat during World War II. And they were among those working to combat the effects of the Deepwater Horizon Spill in 2010. Similar to the Cajun population, the Isleños learned to use the land to farm, trap, and fish its natural resources, influencing the tourism and culinary industries here as well. But somehow they are often relegated to a footnote in state history.
Active in preserving her own roots, award winning journalist and documentarian Samantha Perez, tells the story of the Isleños and their contributions to the culture of Louisiana.