Xavier Robillard-Martel

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Cornell U.

Grant number

Gr. 10148

Approve Date

April 8, 2021

Project Title

Robillard-Martel , Xavier (Cornell U.) "Cajun Country, Creole Gumbo: Racial Formation and Historical Memory in Southern Louisiana"

Southern Louisiana’s tourism industry thrives on narratives that center the history of Cajuns, the white descendants of French Canadian settlers. Recent efforts to challenge Cajun hegemony have used the word Creole to include people of African descent alongside Cajuns in state-funded public events. Yet by equating Creoleness with m’tissage or mixedness and subsuming all people of African descent under the Creole label, these efforts also reactivate hierarchies of color and class that go back to the era of slavery. My research expands scholarship on racial formation by exploring the effects of the Cajun and Creole revivals in a region that has received little attention from scholars of race. Using historical memory as a site of ethnographic research, I examine how state-driven attempts at inclusion reinscribe forms of exclusion, and why social categories like Cajun and Creole emerge as the battleground on which struggles for racial justice are waged. Drawing on archival research, in-depth interviews and participant observations in ethnic advocacy institutions, museums and grassroots community organizations, I study the conflicting ‘racial projects’ that constitute the mnemonic landscape of contemporary southern Louisiana. My work contributes to showing why projects of multicultural inclusion that center metaphors of mixedness fail to challenge antiblackness.