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Los Islenos – St Bernard Parish, Louisiana


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A proud and distinct people still live south and east of New Orleans.

St Bernard Parish

Los Islenos

Not the French, not the Cajun but to quote, “Today, the Isleño communities of St. Bernard Parish survive as the last living vestige of Spanish Colonial Louisiana.

Living history.

One of four Canary Islander settlement communities around the periphery of colonial New Orleans settled by ‘volunteer’ settlers from the Spanish Canary Islands. The La Concepcion / San Bernado (St Bernard) Isleno community has best managed to maintain and preserve its culture and identity.

The Los Islenos Heritage and Cultural Society’s Museum, web site and active and supporting membership have survived Katrina’s devastation to continue to maintain and project the community’s culture and identity.

Direction from St Bernard State Park staff for photo ops in the vicinity had us off one day to Delacroix Island. In the process dead-ending due to unresolved Katrina roadway damage and end-of-the-roading twice in Delacroix and then again at Shell Beach. We saw a couple of references to an Isleno past, present and community. Riding the bikes along the Mississippi River levee down past English Turn (Plaquemines Parish) to the ferry we passed a restored and relocated Canary Islander’s homestead just beyond the park entrance. Intrigued I went and found the Islenos internet presence and headed out late one morning to the Bayou Road site. As luck, my luck, would have it, Bertin Bernard Esteves Jr was my docent of the day. My simple request that he talk to me about his people and heritage grew into lunch and most of the day.

Bertin Bernard Esteves, Jr : An interesting and knowledgeable man, free spirit, Marine, artist, and traveler.

Seek out Bertin or Dot Benge for your dose of interpretive history and culture, well and truly served up by enjoyable, expansive and friendly folk.

The Canary Island descendants, Los Islenos, in and around St Bernard Parish manage and maintain a beautiful museum complex on Bayou Road. The organization presents an annual heritage festival, their 37th this March 17 – 18, 2012. The connection between Los Islenos here and the Canary Islanders is strong. Everyone that I met over a marvelous lunch at the Museum Complex was eager to relate to me their visits to and connections with the land and people of the Canary Islands. The Canary Islands send folk representatives and citizens to the annual Isleno Fiesta here. Those limited slots are an honor that is vied for throughout the year.

The Museum Complex features a wonderfully inviting post-Katrina restored and rebuilt home that houses displays and office space. Beyond the initial building is another new post-Katrina structure that serves as a  community center, a place of and for gathering. Outside  and across is a food court if you will: an area of covered tables for food serving and gathering of peoples.

Beyond this one finds the restored Isleno homes, a trapper’s marsh abode, and a community tavern.

Bertin with great pride showed me his grandfather’s home which has been lovingly relocated, restored and updated with the intention of serving as a bed and breakfast facility.

(Sugar cane boiling iron pot for the sugar crystallization process and a water cistern)

The Los Islenos Heritage and Cultural Society’s Museum Complex on Bayou Road beyond the traffic light  at Guilroy’s in Poydras is worth the time and effort to find.

Much historical knowledge and insight awaits the traveler who explores off the beaten path. This is time and effort well spent. A quality experience provided by quality people.

Would that I could attend this year’s annual Fiesta, … next year!

Posted by bigdawg on March 3, 2012

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