Cast From Their Ancestral Home, Creoles Worry About Culture's Future

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"New Orleans was our womb and for most of us, it was going to be our grave," said Timothy Bordenave, who is living in a cottage here, a five-hour drive away from the city, describing the deep sense of lifelong connection felt to New Orleans by many of the city's Creoles, the population of mixed-race families who trace their roots to the city's French and Spanish colonial era.

The Creoles have been more distinctly connected to a place - New Orleans - than perhaps any other American ethnic group but their rural Louisiana neighbors, the Cajuns. But unlike the Cajuns, who settled in Louisiana after being expelled from Canada by the British, the Creoles lived in the birthplace of their culture.

"The Creole culture was already dying, and now I think it's gone," said Julie Sardie, a marketing executive from New Orleans who is living in a transplanted Creole community in Houston. Ms. Sardie's mother, Jackie, added, "We're just sick, suffering so bad over, not the loss of our houses, but the loss of our home, our culture, the things we did."

Many Creoles trace their roots to immigrants and slaves from the former French and Spanish colonies in the Caribbean, particularly Cuba and what is now Haiti. Historians say it was New Orleans's position as a crossroads and port town that allowed for the easy mingling of races and nationalities that in turn gave birth, in the 18th century, to a part-European, part-Afro-Caribbean society that grew to an estimated 20,000 people in Louisiana by the mid-1800's.

The Creole culture that developed over generations - known for a distinctive cuisine, language and music - contributed to New Orleans's singular identity and helped define Louisiana to the world. Before Hurricane Katrina, experts estimated that 10 to 20 percent of black people in New Orleans - 30,000 to 60,000 people - considered themselves Creole by way of ancestry, but even more lived lives influenced by the culture because of their proximity to it.

And now most are gone.

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