José Antonio Cabrera Martínez (*)
During his tenure as governor of Spanish Louisiana, Bernardo de Gálvez promoted the creation of five foundations in the four cardinal points around New Orleans, the capital of Louisiana, for military reasons to defend the city and the war he was waging against the British troops from West Louisana and Florida.
Between 1777 and 1783, when Spain was occupying this territory, it was decided by Madrid to ensure, through colonization, dominance over a conflictive area highly coveted for its natural resources and strategic situation, for which the Spanish administration used the population of the Canary Islands.
In those years, 4,312 people left the Canaries for New Orleans, although only half managed to arrive, since there were numerous desertions when the expeditions landed in Cuba, especially after 1779, with the declaration of war on England.
Once they arrived in Louisiana, the emigrants from the Canary Islands were settled in four points or population centers around New Orleans: San Bernardo, near New Orleans; Barataria, across the Mississippi; Galveztown at the confluence of the Amite River, and Valenzuela, on the Bayou de Lafourche.
Barataria and Galveztown failed in a short period of time, the first as a consequence of two almost consecutive hurricanes (in 1779 and 1780), and the other two were practically uninhabited in a short time, due to the poor living conditions of the foundations, for its weather, floods, famines and abandonment by the Government of Louisiana, which did not provide goods, food and protection to these foundations.
Only a part was able to survive concentrated in the current Canarian colony of Saint Bernard’s Parish, on the coast of New Orleans. New Iberia also suffered a hurricane recently founded and another location was sought in the Bayú Teche, a tributary of the Mississippi, but its inhabitants mixed with the French-speaking population remained in the region and the city exists today.
La Concepción, was later renamed the Parish of San Bernardo. Of the four, only the last survives, the current epicenter of the Louisiana Canaries, where the Museum of the Islanders is currently located.
Although Louisiana ceased to be a Spanish colony in 1803, the Spanish of the Canary Islands has persisted to this day, albeit in an increasingly scarce form and in danger of extinction. This survival is due not only to the isolation of the main settlement, San Bernardo, but also to the successive waves of emigrants from both the Canary Islands and the Peninsula or even Cuba.
Created by two Canarians, the photographer Aníbal Martel and the Harvard University researcher Thenesoya V. Martín De la Nuez, CISLANDERUS is the first cultural project dedicated to learning about the community of Canarian descendants in the United States. At present the descendants of these emigrants strive to preserve their culture and language, speaking Spanish from the Canary Islands.
(*) Journalist. Writer. Editor