The truth is, Louisiana has one of the most culturally diverse populations in the nation, with not only French and Anglo-American settlers, but the Native Americans who lived there already, and the enslaved Africans the new colonists brought with them into Louisiana Territory. A chapter of Louisiana history that tends to be forgotten however, is when the area fell to Spanish control in the late 1700s. Coaxed by promises of new opportunity, thousands of Canary Islanders of Spanish descent relocated to Louisiana, where they established four settlements. Generations of Isleños, that is the ethnic group of descendants from the Canary Islands who have intermarried with other communities, have overcome the challenges of an evolving American society, as well as the devastation of storms that have ripped through their land. Through it all, the Isleños have preserved their unique heritage, traditions and culture for more than two centuries.
The Islenos of Louisiana: On the Water's Edge
Samantha Perez is a resident of St. Bernard Parish and active in preserving her own Isleno roots. In 2005, as a senior in high school, she lost her home to Hurricane Katrina and wrote a series of journalism articles on her personal experiences with the storm and the gradual emotional and physical recovery process. In 2006, her work on the storm earned the Professor Mel Williams Award for Writing Excellence through the Scholastic Press Forum, the Suburban Newspapers of America's Award for Best Feature and the honor of Louisiana State Senate Resolution No. 127, which was presented in recognition of her journalism work following Katrina.
As a junior at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, she and communications major Joshua Robin created an hour-long documentary called "Louisiana's Lost Treasure: The Islenos," which they presented as part of Fanfare, Southeastern Louisiana University's celebration of the arts. The success of the documentary led to presentations at academic conferences, including the Louisiana Historical Association Convention and the Gulf South History and Humanities Conference. In 2010, she graduated with degrees in history and honors English and minors in creative writing and gender studies from Southeastern. She is currently pursuing graduate study at Tulane University, where she will earn her PhD in late medieval/early modern European history.