Ledesma New Orleans Summer 2022

Video Reflection

Senior Integrated Project

Questions and Responses

Research Project Description

I conducted research by visiting various archives in New Orleans in order to gather information about race relations in the city with a focus on the late 19th and early 20th century. The guiding lens is an analysis of George Washington Cable’s The Grandissimes (1880), a novel which reflects on social inequality and prejudice by writing to 1803 with a focus on “creoles” of the city with the novel being published in 1880. The novel uses “voudou” as one mode of agency for his Black characters, and I put a focus on the rhetoric surrounding New Orleans “voudou” through various time points to highlight the ways racial prejudice is present in the reporting and construction of “voudou.” I am also engaging with the text as it showcases various ways that Cable’s Black characters gain agency and power that strikes fear into the white French creoles of the novel.

On Location and Dislocation

The lens of dislocation and location is deeply rooted in my research on the frequent forced dislocation of Black people within New Orleans and in turn how they have to find their own place within the city. One example of this is the city ordinance of 1817 that restricted the gathering of enslaved peoples to Congo Square, located within the current day Louis Armstrong Park. With this ordinance, the community made this a space of cultural expression. This expression was viewed as lesser than and capable of being contained to such a small area of the city. George Washington Cable’s The Grandissimes engages with race relations and addresses social prejudice dislocation and location. Congo Square is also a significant site in his novel as this is where the legendary Bras-Coupé was found and captured. Further, the lens of dislocation and location is central to understanding the significance of Cable’s use of “voudou” and speaks to current constructions of New Orleans “voudou,” or voodoo.

On Humanities and Social Justice

I see work rooted in humanities as the foundation for building a social awareness that in turn fosters a desire to lead or participate in movements for change. Through my coursework, I have gained a knowledge that allows me to learn about various life experiences that are vastly different than mine. Without engaging with various English, Religion, and Critical Ethnic Studies classes, my social awareness and political viewpoints could be considered uninformed. We can also work to advance knowledge and respect for other human experiences while honoring respective differences without claiming ownership and using extractive or damaging practices. For instance, by further engaging with research and the ethical boundaries of research practices, we can move towards a more just society that is not so deeply engaged with exploitative practices in terms of gathering knowledge. Furthermore, the humanities need to constantly be questioned and that allows for more research, generative conversations, and actionable change that work to uplift marginalized communities. By engaging with the past and studying it intimately, we can then lead from an informed place that is dedicated to no longer repeating abusive practices for the profit of the few.

On Place-Based Learning

The power of story is an integral part of my summer research. It engages with a work of literature that is also a political statement critical of the white French creole’s desire to restrict community building through racial and classist prejudices. Through story, George Washington Cable is also capable of a sort of time travel that forces readers to engage with the past while understanding that it informs the present. I, more specifically, am in conversation with the story of Cable’s Bras-Coupé, an enslaved man who became legendary by striking fear in the hearts of the novel’s characters. The story of Bras-Coupé is the novel’s equivalent to a story central to a community’s consciousness and Cable uses it to showcase racial prejudice, the cruelty of enslavement, and more.

I also grappled with contradictions and tensions of the past because my research is rooted in the 19th and 20th century. History as a living legacy started a train of thinking that, for me, opened up The Grandissimes as a way to analyze race relations still shaping today’s society, politics, religious understandings, etc. Within New Orleans, I came to see the legacy of past decisions. The construction of voodoo, for example, supports Hollywood demonization of the practice. This continued rhetoric is visible when going through old newspapers.