Spanish Cajuns | 'Spanish Cajuns' Win Place in History Books - Los Angeles Times

They've been here since 1778, with their colorful caldo stew, intricate lace and archaic Spanish dialect. This year, Islenos will appear in school history books for the first time.

The mention of the people commonly called "Spanish Cajuns" spans less than two pages in new textbooks for eighth-graders. But for the community that has endured in St. Bernard Parish since their ancestors were sent from the Canary Islands by Spanish King Carlos III, it's a significant step.

"It is very important to note that Spain left an enduring imprint here," says William Hyland, a St. Bernard Parish historian and director of the Islenos Museum. "When you speak to the elderly Islenos in this area, almost all of them are bilingual."

The new history text refers to the Islenos--Spanish for "islanders"--as the "oldest and best preserved Hispanic culture in Louisiana." According to Hyland, about two of every three residents of St. Bernard Parish, a suburb of New Orleans with a population of about 90,000, have at least one Islenos ancestor.

King Carlos sent the Islenos here apparently out of fear he could not rely on the loyalty of the French settlers who established the colony before it was sold to Spain.

The nickname "Spanish Cajun" is a bit of a misnomer in that Islenos never lived in the eastern Canadian region known as Acadia, from which the term Cajun is derived. However, there is some logic to it, Hyland says.

"The two cultures evolved along similar lines because they were in the same environment, but they are distinct and recognizably so, and it's wonderful we have all this diversity here," he says.

There is a clear French influence in the Spanish still spoken today by older Islenos. For example, Islenos say "tanta" for "aunt," which is more similar to the French word "tante" than the Spanish "tia." They also say "lacre" for "lake," again more similar to the French "lac" than the Spanish "lago."

Emily Nunez Vega, 82, a volunteer at the museum, says she was not allowed to speak Spanish in school but it was all she spoke with her parents.
"I take part in everything I can here and I love my Spanish," says Vega, who has a soup recipe in an Islenos cookbook sold at the museum and wears the traditional rainbow garb of Canary Islanders during festivals.

The Islenos Museum complex in St. Bernard grows as historic buildings typical of Islenos settlements are picked up and moved to the grounds.
Among the structures is a Bousillage-style home, essentially a cypress frame with walls made from a combination of moss and mud covered with wooden siding.