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State Spotlight: Louisiana

From the plains of Africa to the islands off the Spanish coast, Louisiana has experienced a wide variety of international influences, giving visitors to this state the chance to enjoy a diverse menu of international cultures.

Unlike many of the other American states that were settled primarily by single nationalities or ethnic groups, Louisiana counts Spanish, French, Native American and African immigrants among its early inhabitants. Other groups found their way to the area as well, bringing German, Hungarian and other traditions.

Travelers can get an introduction to Louisiana’s French Acadian influence in Lafayette, the heart of Cajun country. Creole culture shines in the Lake Charles area, and Chalmette and St. Bernard Parish showcase the traditions of early Spanish settlers from the Canary Islands.

Louisiana has some fascinating cultural enclaves as well. In Minden, locals hold a number of annual celebrations based on their German heritage. And a new museum in Albany will educate visitors about the Hungarian history of southeast Louisiana.

Creole Culture
The music, food, celebrations and ethnic culture of Lake Charles are closely tied to the African and Creole groups that live in the area. The presence of Africans in the region dates to Colonial times; the Creole culture came about when African groups mixed with Indian, French and Spanish settlers, creating a new cultural heritage unique to the area.

Creole culture can be found at attractions and events throughout Lake Charles. The Black Heritage Gallery details the African roots of the area, and the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu explores the Creole influence on Fat Tuesday celebrations. Groups can sample Creole food at the Kitchen Restaurant and other spots along the southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail, or arrange for performances of jazz and zydeco music from area musicians.

Special events bring Lake Charles’ Creole culture to life. Favorites include the Black Heritage Festival, the Martin Luther King Coalition Festival, Mardi Gras, the Downtown Lake Charles Crawfish festival, Juneteenth and Boozoo’s Labor Day Festival.

Minden’s Mardi Gras
In the 1830s, a group of German religious immigrants founded a settlement in northwest Louisiana. Today, that settlement has grown into the city of Minden, which blends its German heritage with beloved Louisiana traditions during several special events throughout the year.

In November, the city gathers to kick off the Minden Fasching Fifth Season Celebration, a series of festivities based on the German pre-Lenten carnival tradition of “fasching.” Fasching festivities begin before Christmas and feature holiday lights in the city streets, as well as an exhibition of more than 100 nutcracker statues decorated to honor Minden’s German heritage. Later in the winter, the city celebrates the Fasching Karneval and Parade, a tradition that is the German equivalent of Mardi Gras.

Groups can learn more about the area’s German heritage year-round by visiting the Germantown Colony Museum, which tells the story of the first German settlers who arrived in the area to establish a utopian society.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.