I'll still be posting the last installment or two on my experiences doing trabajo voluntario down in New Orleans, with a special focus on one of the neighborhoods where we worked, Treme, and the new HBO series of the same name that premiered last Sunday.
Now, however, I will begin to answer the question about the difference between Creoles and Cajuns by discussing what Tulane geographer Richard Campanella calls "a complex, fluid, and controversial identity, whose definition varies on the axes of time, place, context, and perspective": CREOLE.
Bienville's Dilemma: A Historical Geography of New Orleans (2008, Center for Louisiana Studies). (See here, here, and here for more on the book). Of the book's 68 semi-independent chapters, two in particular provide what is perhaps the most concise and comprehensive discussion of the evolution of this peculiar, place-based (and sometime race-based and occasionally racist and elitist) ethnicity: "Creolism and Place: The convoluted and controversial history of New Orleans' home-grown ethnicity" and "Nativity as Ethnicity in New Orleans: The significance of being - and not being - from New Orleans."
As what Campanella calls "the only American city that can reasonably claim to have rendered its own ethnicity," New Orleans has been home to people who identify themselves as Creoles since early in the 18th century when it was ruled and populated in turn by the French (and their slaves) and the Spanish (and their slaves). Since then, the word and identity Creole has evolved through what I will identify as ten phases as described by Campanella.
1. Just as in colonial Latin America (including Cuba), Creole was the French and English translation of Criollo and was used in New Orleans to "describe those of Old World parents born upon New World soils." Old Worlders were called peninsulares and ran the government, military, and clergy in colonial Latin America, while subsequent generations were criollos and often treated as second class citizens. Thus, Creoles were defined in opposition to (and were initially seen as inferior to) those born in France or Spain. This is similar to what many of my immigrant and children-of-immigrant students call "2nd generation" - or as Chinese New Yorkers often argue whether it's better to be a CBA or an ABC - that is, a Chinese-born American (a 1st gen who keeps the language and traditions but is often seen by ABCs as a bumpkin), and an American-born Chinese (a 2nd gen who is hip, modern, and upwardly mobile but is frequently seen by CBAs as hollow, fake, lazy, and disrespectful of sacred traditions and the all-important elders).
2. Later, after Louisiana became part of the U.S. and the Anglos began to arrive in New Orleans, the term Creole became more important in distinguishing the "ancient Louisianians" from the "modern Louisianians" - that is, the Franco/Hispano, Catholic Creole "natives" from the Anglo, Protestant Americans. In this iteration, Creole became a synonym for native and applied equally to whites, blacks, and those of mixed racial heritage - especially the gens de couleur libre (free people of color).
3. This distinction between Creoles and Americans (not yet between white and black) actually politically fractured the city of New Orleans into three separate municipalities during the 19th century until the Americans gradually won the day both politically and economically. In turn, as the Americans took over they slowly began to replace the Creole/Caribbean/Latin American notion that there were racial gradients between black and white with a strict sense of racial separation a la the infamous "one drop" rule.
4. As a result, white Creoles attempted to re-define the Creole identity as strictly and exclusively one for people of pure French or Spanish blood. This did much to threaten the earlier notion of what Campanella refers to as "pan-racial creolism" - that is, an understanding "in which peoples of different racial ancestries openly shared a common nativity-based ethnicity."
5. The "Americanization" of New Orleans' racial categories, identities, and social codes eventually led to the infamous 1896 U.S. Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson where the light-skinned Catholic Creole of color from Faubourg Treme, Homer Plessy, was ejected from a street car reserved for "whites" - yes that's a picture of Plessy above!
6. Even though many white Creoles of the city had previously tried to take ownership of the ethnic identity with a claim of pure French or Spanish blood, at the turn of the century they began to gradually melt into the white American population of New Orleans and stop identifying as Creoles, "removing all potential doubt of their whiteness by severing ties with the equally genuine Creoles of black and mixed-race backgrounds," according to Campanella. This distancing in turn led popular usage of the term Creole to indicate a person who was Franco-African-American ("a local person of mixed racial ancestry, usually Catholic, often with a French surname, often well-established in business and society, and always with deep roots in the city's Francophone history") as opposed to the city's sizable non-Creole African-American population.
A good example of a classic New Orleans Creole from this era is the jazz man Jelly Roll Morton (born Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, Morton later Anglicized his stepfather's surname Mouton and took it as his own). Morton, the Creole, can be contrasted with Louis Armstrong, the African-American grandson of slaves (both pictured below).