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Photo of people dancing in brightly colored costumes
Young Isleño descendants and society members do a traditional folk dance of Tenerife Island, October 1999

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Isleños Society of St. Bernard Parish
A Local Legacy

Did you know that part of Louisiana used to be owned by Spain? In 1766, after the French and Indian War, France gave Louisiana to Spain and Great Britain. Spain controlled the part of Louisiana west of the Mississippi River and the Island of Orleans. But when the Spanish learned that the British wanted to invade their part of the province, they decided that more people needed to live there to protect the area.

Spain turned to its colonies in the Canary Islands to find people to move to Louisiana. The Canary Islands, located off the coast of Africa, were the first colonial territory of the Spanish Empire and Christopher Columbus's last stop before discovering the New World. The people who lived there were called Canary Islanders, or Isleños (pronounced ees-lane-yos), and they settled Louisiana between 1778 and 1783.

When the Isleños moved to Louisiana, they settled in four areas around New Orleans to protect the city. St. Bernard Parish, just five miles from downtown New Orleans, was settled in 1799. It was the most successful settlement, and it still maintains a unique Spanish identity. (In Louisiana, counties are called "parishes.") The Isleños also brought their culture with them. Their lives revolved mainly around family and the Roman Catholic Church.

In 1980, the Isleños Society of St. Bernard Parish founded the Los Isleños Museum to preserve Louisiana's disappearing Spanish culture. The elderly Isleños still speak a very old type of Spanish, brought to Louisiana more than two centuries ago. More than 200 Isleños have been interviewed and recorded in this old-style Spanish, and these tapes have been collected by the museum.

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