While most of the united States has historically been dominated by a ‘black/white’ racial binary, New Orleans – as well as many other parts of Louisiana – has long been shaped by a tripartite division that included a thriving community of free people of colour who were socially in-between and distinct from enslaved blacks and free whites. This division was nurtured by Louisiana’s Spanish and French colonial rulers and then significantly reinvigorated by the migration of nearly 10,000 refugees from the Haitian Revolution, who fled their first refuge in eastern Cuba to settle in New Orleans in 1809. In the research discussed here I examine how these historical ties to the Caribbean continue to shape the way many in New Orleans understand their culture and describe their racial and ethnic identification. I argue that in order to understand its racial and ethnic present, New Orleans must be examined within the larger history and context of the Americas.
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