Historically, New Orleans and Louisiana have been closely tied to Spain, Mexico, and Latin American countries. Even though Spain ruled the Louisiana territory from 1763 until 1803, Spanish speaking influences never seemed to be able to penetrate the dominant French culture. There are interesting exceptions to that rule, though, as the Isleños of Saint Bernard Parish show. Groups of Spanish Canary Islanders arrived in 1778 as part of the Spanish government’s plan to protect the city of New Orleans from hostile invasion from the British. It was thought that by settling sympathetic people in vulnerable areas, the threatened invasion of the English from the Eastern territory could be halted.
Although this invasion never quite came to pass, the Isleños settled throughout Louisiana, with a pretty serious concentration in St. Bernard Parish. Since it was a fairly insular community, a dialect of Spanish was spoken, and foods such as paella, empanadillos, flan, and candies, as well as a love of fresh fish and game were passed through the generations. Caldo is one example: a soup that is a traditional Canary Island staple, made with tons of fresh vegetables, beans, pork, and carefully guarded family recipes. The Islanos Museum in Chalmette chronicles the lives of this group, and also holds an annual festival, Los Isleños Fiesta, that celebrates the culture of the community. Spanish and Latin American immigrants must have appreciated the existence of the Spanish cultural community and it gradually expanded and crept into the city of New Orleans.