The term “Creoles” is used in a number of different ways. In the United States, it is generally used to refer to people in the Gulf States who are of foreign descent, most particularly Spanish and French Creoles, who have ancestors who settled in the region before it was incorporated into the United States. The term is also used more generally to refer to the city of New Orleans, which has a large Creole population, thanks to the fact that the region was originally settled by the French.
Some people mistakenly believe that Creoles are of mixed race. While they certainly can be, Creoles can come from any racial, social, or religious background; the defining characteristic of the Creoles is foreign ancestry, not skin color. Many Creoles take pride in their heritage, believing that they are examples of living history, a living descendants of people who settled in North America before the formation of the United States.
”Creole” comes from the Portuguese crioulo, which is used to refer to a servant born and raised in the house of a master. The term was originally used in reference to North American slaves born and raised on American soil, contrasting them with North American slaves who had come directly from Africa. Over time, people came to use the term more generally to refer to anyone born and raised in one locale with heritage from another locale.
French Creoles can come either from French settlers, or Canadian settlers who moved to the Louisiana area. The Francophone Creole community is famous for its cuisine, which is heavily influenced by French tradition, while integrating food products available only in the New World. Spanish Creoles are either of Spanish or Caribbean ancestry, and many of them have closely intermingled with French Creoles.
Louisiana in particular has an abundance of Creoles, along with a great deal of pride in its Creole heritage. Creole cuisine is abundantly available in the area, and it is common to see cooking competitions featuring the best in the field. Louisiana Creoles have a very rich culture which is sometimes confused with that of the Cajuns, people descended from Acadian settlers. While Creoles and Cajuns share the trait of foreign ancestry, they have their own distinct cultural and culinary traditions.