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Dr. Micahel Sartisky at the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

By Remy Benoit

We invite you to visit with The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities., Louisiana Cultural Vistas Magazine and its Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Michael Sartisky.

As Dr. Sartisky points out below, we have a unique, rich, and varied culture here that must be preserved. We need your help for that. Please, subscribe to Louisiana Cultural Vistas Magazine. as it will bring our voices to your home, touch your hearts with our hearts, and make you understand why we say, We are Louisiana and we are coming back rich in pride, rich in culture, and, as always, welcoming you to share in it all.

With Permission - From Dr. Michael Sartisky - Fall 2007 -
Editor's Column -
Louisiana Cultural Vistas.:

In the Wake of Cultural Damages

During and immediately following the passage of Hurricane Katrina, virtually 100 percent of the inhabited areas of St. Bernard Parish and 80 percent of the inhabited areas of New Orleans flooded, destroying and harming in unprecedented ways a culture and inventory of cultural assets and practices unique in the United States and all the world.

In Louisiana, as distinct from any other of the United States, particular forms of cultural expression have taken on unique forms acknowledged throughout the world as a result of the influence of an unusual mingling in the colonial period of cultural streams from France, Spain, Africa, the Caribbean, Canary Islands, and Native America, with additional influences from later immigrants such as Italians, Yugoslavs, Irish, Germans, and Anglos, among others.

As a result and in the wake of Katrina, damage and harm to an unprecedented degree has been inflicted upon an original and fragile culture and the community that for generations has produced, enjoyed and whose very identity is defined by it, literally thousands upon thousands of people from across the social and economic spectrum.

The Unique Cultural Geography

Of all the cities in the United States, New Orleans is universally acknowledged to occupy a special place, precisely because of its history, culture, and cultural practices. These are enjoyed, valued, and contribute to the lives and identity of not only the citizens who live in the most historic neighborhoods and amidst their architecture, but by literally all of the surrounding communities which likely would not exist at all were it not for New Orleans and who practice, contribute, and partake of that culture and define themselves and their communities in relation to it.

I should specify that culture in this context embraces and includes both "high" culture - often represented by major institutions and art forms such as museums, the symphony and opera, and large historic buildings and residences such the Cabildo, Gallier Hall, and the mansions of the Garden District - and also so-called "low" culture - including vernacular architecture such as the classic shotgun or Creole cottage and cultural practices which pervade daily life such as funerals, and second lines, or even the making of gumbo.

First and foremost, New Orleans is universally acknowledged to be the birthplace of jazz, the only indisputably American art form, but the inventory of New Orleans cultural uniqueness hardly stops there. These cultural manifestations include such general celebrations as Mardi Gras - both the huge parades down St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street - but also the more localized versions practiced in all the surrounding communities, including the fishing and shrimp boat parade in St. Bernard Parish. Mardi Gras is remarkable in that it transcends all class and racial divisions and engages the community as an entirety - uptown, downtown, inner-city and the mansions lining St. Charles Ave. They also include the Mardi Gras Indians who parade most visibly on Mardi Gras Day, but also St. Joseph's Day, Super Sunday, and other special occasions, weaving in and out of dozens of inner-city communities.

A Cultural Inventory Like No Other

New Orleans is unique among all American cities in the manifold ways the culture bubbles out from and onto the street: the jazz funerals and other brass-band parades and their related activities of such groups as the Baby Dolls, the Skeletons, and Social Aid and Pleasure clubs commemorating untold numbers of events: weddings, sports victories, birthdays, building and exhibit openings, and second-lining, in which virtually the entire community participates.

Apart from the obvious public manifestations of culture are communal cultural practices such as the building of St. Joseph's Day altars, crawfish boils, the making of gumbo - especially with recipes passed down through generations. Others are somewhat more arcane, but nonetheless unique and now imperiled for all time. For example, Louisiana and especially New Orleans, has been able to maintain its unique blend of accents, dialects, and patois, largely due to its unusual confluence of cultures, unique in the United States, and the fierce adherence of the people to the place. Fully 81 percent of Louisiana residents were born in the state. This was especially true of the IsleƱos of St. Bernard Parish whose distinctive language and forms of literary expressions, such as their narrative songs called decimas, linguists have traced back to the Renaissance and possibly even the Middle Ages. The same is true of the distinctive accents of New Orleans. The Diaspora of this population will dramatically compromise the continuation of this tradition if not wipe it out wholesale.

The failure of the Army Corps of Engineers to protect New Orleans placed in extreme jeopardy and subsequently caused catastrophic damage to both the United States' and the world's cultural patrimony and assets. The value of the damage is not just the wetlands, but what the wetlands protected, i.e. the city of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish and their buildings, architecture, industries and business, but also their history and culture, a crucial distinction.

_____Thank you, Dr. Sartisky for sharing. And please, again, do subscribe to the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. and get your own awesome issues of Louisiana Cultural Vistas.You will be sharing our culture and helping us rebuild, and for that, we thank you in advance.

Blessings to all,
Miz' Remy


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