Readers discuss creole identity in literature

Updated: Feb. 13, 2020 at 7:38 PM CST
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Louisiana writer Ernest Gaines’ first book, “Catherine Carmier,” explores the clash of two cultures in rural Louisiana in the 1960s: Creole and Cajun.

Cajun culture is predominantly white and for readers at Epps Memorial Library in Lake Charles on Tuesday, Creole identity and culture was the center of discussion.

Dr. Delma Porter, who leads the library’s “Readings in Literature and Culture (RELIC) program," said Creole is a word that essentially just meant people who were first-born in the state of Louisiana.

“It didn’t have anything to do with mixed races,” Porter said. “But eventually, it has come to represent biracial individuals.”

The characters’ difficulty with identifying as either black or white is a theme of “Catherine Carmier.” Gaines’ goal was to illustrate how the Creole culture was displaced in many ways by the Cajun culture, sparking discussion on race, culture and class.

Book by Ernest J. Gaines.
Book by Ernest J. Gaines.(KPLC)

Merlyn Villery said the story is like a microcosm of society.

“It’s like you’re looking at culture that can explain how people set themselves up to class, how people feel superior, how other people are ignored,” Villery said. “So for me, I look at it, well that’s what we’re experiencing in Louisiana today.”

Alexandria native Aavonne Lambert, 75, said she found the book interesting.

“I didn’t know about all this stuff,” Lambert said. “It was kind of depressing in a way, because these people, it was just so bad for them."

Lambert said she wouldn’t have stayed in a place where there was no hope and progress for people of color.

“You couldn’t even get a good job, I mean it was just nothing there," Lambert said. “These kinds of books is letting us know what they actually went through so we won’t forget that, where we came from and what it took for us to get where we are today.”

The group talked about the literature, but woven into their discussions were personal narratives where individuals talked about their own experience. Porter said having the opportunity to validate personal experiences are vital to the health of the community.

“Literature is the key to understanding not only cultures, but understanding our past, our history and predictors of our future," Porter said.

The program will take place at Epps Memorial Library on Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. No registration is required.

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