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Sierran French Creoles
Créoles de Sierra
Flag of the Sierran French Creoles
Total population
1.8 million–6 million
Regions with significant populations
Gold Coast, Channel Islands, Orange, Inland Empire, Laguna, Kings, Plumas
Languages
French, English, Spanish, Sierran Creole
Religion
Predominantly Roman Catholic; some practice Protestantism or Afro-American religions
Related ethnic groups
Channeliers
French Sierran
Spanish Sierran
African Sierran
Native Sierran
Asian Sierran
Criollos
Hapas
Sierran Creole people (French: Créoles de Sierra, Spanish: Criolloserranos) are a multiracial ethnic group, who have ancestry from African (primarily Afro-Caribbean and African American), European (French and Spanish), Amerindian, and sometimes Asian (East and Southeast Asia) ethnic groups. Many Sierran Creoles are descendants from inhabitants of colonial Sierra during the period of Spanish and Mexican rule, and the Channel Islands when it was under French control, as well as the Louisiana Creoles and Haitian gens de couleur who immigrated to Sierra during the late 19th-century. The term creole was and is still used today in Sierra to refer to Sierrans of multiracial descent, although biracial Sierrans may or may not be considered Creole (a notable example are the Sierran Hapas). Sierran Creoles are predominantly Francophone and Catholic. They are counted as one of the "Big Five" (including the Sierran Jacobites) constituent groups in Sierra who are primarily Catholic.

In the 18th-century, hundreds of French colonists settled the Channel Islands, while Spaniard soldiers and missionaries lived along the Sierran mainland coasts. Over the years, a new race of people, known as the mestizos, emerged from the intermarriages between the colonists and the indigenous natives. During the Mexican period, thousands of white Anglo-Americans and free people of color moved to Sierra, in search of settlement and economic opportunity. Some people from these groups married into the mestizo families, and became known as the creoles under the casta system. In addition, more and more families of the French Channeliers moved into the mainland, primarily in the Gold Coast, due to land and water shortages in the Channels. After the Anglo-American California Republic gained independence in 1848, the growing Anglophone community soon became the majority, threatening the cultural integrity of the Hispanophones and Francophones. As such, the emerging Creole community often lived in urban enclaves, where the Sierran Creole culture was developed and preserved from the confluences of outside forces.

The Sierran Creoles faced widespread discrimination and even persecution under the California Republic. Generally darker-skinned, Catholic (as opposed to Protestant), and largely French or Spanish-speaking, the Creoles were labeled as outcasts and perpetual foreigners, and were largely shut out from political and economic opportunities. Despite this, the Creole community was able to flourish within their neighborhoods and communities, which the Californian government tolerated, albeit under tense conditions. The California Gold Rush brought in new waves of immigration from not just Anglo-America and Europe, but Latin America and Asia as well. Although the majority of prospectors returned home penniless, the few that acquired riches, and chose to remain in California, did so by settling throughout the country, and some in the Creole communities.

By the time the Kingdom of Sierra was formed just ten years after the gold rush, a small class of affluent, middle-class Creoles emerged, particularly in the Francophone city of Grands Ballons. Although the Creoles continued to experience prejudice by the new government, local leaders gained legal victories which expanded Creole rights at the community level, and defended Creole culture from suppression. Politically, the new Creole class aligned themselves with the Royalists, united together in their common support for the Catholic Monarchy and inclusive economic policies that reflected urban issues. The arrival of Louisiana Creoles and African Americans during and after the American Civil War helped reinvigorate and strengthen the Sierran Creole community, thereby solidifying the group as a formidable and cohesive sociopolitical force. Although the Creoles embraced the political advancements made during the 1900s Sierran Cultural Revolution, the majority of its people resisted assimilation to the "new culture", creating a cultural divide between the Creoles and the Hapa-led "new culturalists" (consisting mainly of whites and East Asians).

Today, Sierran Creoles mainly inhabit the Southwest Corridor region of Sierra and are particularly concentrated along the Saintiana (also known as the "Creole Coast" and not to be confused with the nickname Santa Ana for the Orange city of St. Anne), which includes areas along the Gold Coast's South Bay and Santa Monica Bay, and northwestern Orange. Another common description of the Creoles' primary range includes coastal communities between the cities of Malibu and Aliso Beach. Their presence has helped shape the local culture of the area, as well as the nation due to their prominence around the Kingdom's capital in Porciúncula. Despite a history of economic disadvantage and discrimination, Sierran Creoles have contributed to artistic, scientific, political, social, musical, and educational movements in the past. March was designated as the official Sierran French Creole Appreciation Month in 2007, honoring Creole advancements to Sierran culture.

Although there has never been any formal census conducted for the Sierran Creole people, the Sierran government estimates that roughly 15% of native-born Sierrans had Creole ancestry and that as much as 45% of multicultural Sierrans would be qualified as Creole according to historic Sierran casta system. Increasingly, Creoles have lobbied to be included as a separate ethnic category by the Sierra Royal Bureau of Census, and are the second-largest group after Hispanics, who self-identify with "Other race" under current census definitions.

History

Early Franco-Spanish colonial period

Casta painting

A 18th-century painting from Mexico depicting the Spanish casta system.

The term "Creole" was first applied by the French and Spanish colonial governments for ethnic French and Spaniards who were born in the New World instead of Europe. Although Spain controlled virtually all of modern-day Sierra as well as western North America, it shared condominium with France over the Channel Islands, where the majority of the region's European colonists (most of whom were French) settled and lived. The French arrived during the late 18th-century, and initially included French government representative and soldiers. Orphaned les filles du roi (The King's Daughters) and later, filles à la cassette (Casquette girls) helped increase the colonial population in the Channels dramatically. Due to geographic isolation, the French spoken on the Channel Islands is very similar to the French spoken in Metropolitan France during the 18th century, albeit with significant influence from Spanish, and subsequent languages that came into contact with the early French Channeliers (chiefly English).

As intermarriages between European whites and the local Amerindians became more frequent (predominantly between European men and Amerindian women), a new racial class known as the mestizo became prominent in the region. While "Creole" was still applied to both the "racially pure" whites and the mestizos, European-born whites became distinguished as penninsulars and were nominally ranked higher than the New World-born whites. The Spanish colonial test of limpieza de sangre was implemented, which was a system of determinants used to test racial purity and admixture. The system originated in the Iberian Peninsula, as a means to separate Spaniards who had Jewish or Moor (Muslim) heritage. In colonial Sierra, one's racial background was very important in the casta system, and could either expand or limit one's social mobility in the hierarchy.

Spanish colonial period

In 1810, the first Haitian émigrés and gens de couleur libres began arriving to Alta California. Escaping the persecution and turmoil that occurred in the aftermath of the Haitian Revolution, hundreds of these Francophone immigrants settled primarily along the Gold Coast, as well as the Channel Islands. The majority of these immigrants arrived by foot in caravans, and followed the Old Spanish Trail from New Orleans and other locations from Louisiana, as well as present-day Brazoria to Porciúncula. Predominantly black, they were the first major African community in that particular region of North America. They naturally gravitated towards the Francophones who were already in Sierra, and cross-cultural interaction further contributed to the growing complexity of the Creoles. Although they faced some resistance by the colonists and legal discriminations by the government, they were permitted to settle the lands as Spanish citizens since they were Catholic. Escaped and freed slaves also immigrated to Sierra in search of refuge and sanctuary from the rest of slaveholding Anglo-America. Such slaves were guaranteed passage only if they agreed to convert to Catholicism, learned Spanish, and join a few years of service in the Spanish military if they were able-bodied males.

De Mulato y Mestiza

A mestizo woman with her mulatto husband and their torna atrás child.

Although slavery was still legal in New Spain, it was uncommon in Alta California. Slave trade itself was banned in 1820, when King Ferdinand VII decreed it in a treaty with Great Britain, another country which had opted to ban slavery entirely. Nonetheless, the Spanish government generally honored settling slaveholders' rights to continue owning and using their own slaves. The government did not typically guarantee recapturing escaped slaves however, and thus, there were numerous cases of slaveholders inadvertently giving freedom to their slaves by moving them to nominally free land. Peonage did exist however, and was still practiced. Some travelers along the Old Spanish Trail came as indentured servants, who had to work for their contractors in Alta California, in order to pay off the costs of the trip, though such contracts typically did not last any longer than five years. This political environment was ideal for supporting a free black and colored population, as well as the descendants of interracial relationships, who were known as mulattos. Interactions between the mestizos and mulattos added newer dimensions of racial admixture, paralleling similar demographic patterns in other parts of Latin America.

Creole woman with servant

A wealthy Creole woman and her servant.

Towards the end of Spanish rule in Sierra, the Creole population grew to the point of outnumbering the white Peninsulars and the Criollos. Although this was not a matter of serious concern to the Spanish government, Spanish political leaders remained firm on the casta system and continued to bar people of color and the Creoles from most bureaucratic positions and other vessels of power. However, the Spanish government permitted men of color to purchase and own their own land, and on occasion, gave large grants of ranchos to more affluent Creole men.

Around this time, the French word créole was selectively distinguished in context from the Spanish word criollo. Créole was now almost exclusively reserved for those of mixed ancestry, particularly if they possessed noticeable degrees of phenotypic features typical of Africans or Amerindians. The distinction between créole and criollo (which both mutually meant and translated to creole) was also created as the French language was the overwhelming first language of the Creole population, and thus, the community itself had referred to itself first and foremost as créoles. In contrast, criollo was still used by the Spanish government to refer to white colonists who had no known or perceived black or Amerindian ancestry. This distinction was evident in both languages, with either versions of the term used and understood consciously as different in reference to the groups.

The social standing and prestige that some Creole families acquired were improved by relaxed laws surrounding the casta system. The Spanish government no longer restricted people of color from purchasing or receiving land grants from the government, and encouraged prospective buyers to build their own homes to support the growing population.

Mexican period

Californios

A scene depicting the multiracial society of Mexican Sierra, which includes the Creoles.

In 1821, Mexico gained its independence from Spain after over a decade of conflict that coincided with the Spanish American wars of independence. While Alta California was too distant from much of the conflict, the majority of its civilian population, including the Creoles, were sympathetic to the independence movement. Although there is little documentation of Afro-Mexican involvement during the Mexican War of Independence, there were few cases of the local Creole population volunteering in the military effort.

Compared to the Spanish imperial government, the Mexican government was less discriminatory towards the Creole population. Seeking to break up the monopoly of land control from the Spanish missions, the Mexican government made it easier for individuals to claim land grants. Over a million of acres were repossessed by the Mexican government from the Church, and the Mission Indians who worked at these missions were released from servitude. These changes allowed better opportunities for the Creoles to become property owners. Claiming land itself was relatively simple. One need only ensure a desired plot of land was formally surveyed and topographically mapped on a diseño, a hand-drawn parchment usually done by the applicant themselves, and use the land strictly for grazing or farming.

Many Creoles and other people of color were able to find employment on the ranchos as farmhands, cowboys, maids, or farmers, while others held managerial positions and oversaw the rancho itself. Although treatment and compensation of the workers depended from rancho to rancho, the bourgeoning economy improved the plight of Creole community considerably.

In the years leading up to the Mexican-American War, more and more Anglophones from the east had begun settling California, upsetting the balance of the territory. Mostly white and Protestant, the Anglo-Americans threatened the informal racial hierarchy of the local community, who came with a binary concept of race: white and non-white, with no distinction on social status or wealth. The predominance of Catholicism and a free class of a mixed-race disturbed the settlers, who believed in American manifest destiny. The Mexican government viewed the Anglo-Americans with equal suspicion and wariness, and tried to force them to adopt Catholicism and learn Spanish. Within the Creole and Channelier communities, their shared French heritage came into increasingly hostile contact and conflict with the Anglophones.

California Republic

In 1846, a group of Anglo-Americans launched a revolt in present-day Sonoma, Plumas, triggering the Californian War of Independence. It was triggered in response to growing tensions between the settlers and the Mexican government, as well as the Mexican-American War which broke out just a month earlier over Brazoria. Within a month, Porciúncula had also joined the rebellion, and the Creoles were divided on the matter. Some saw the conflict as an opportunity to assert for more rights from the Mexican government, while others exercised measured restraint, fearing an Anglo-American regime would worsen their situation.

Although the majority of the Creole population in and around the Porciúncula area chose to remain neutral throughout the conflict, a number of Creole men enlisted in either side of the conflict. The Creole community in Grands Ballons was caught in the middle of the Battle of San Pedro, when the Anglo-American forces laid siege to it. The community unilaterally surrendered after the Mexican and Californio soldiers were driven out or captured.

Under the Republic, the government was dysfunctional and many communities, including the Creoles, lived in largely lawlessness with a demonstrable degree of autonomy. The capital of the California Republic moved from Sonoma to Monterey, before finally settling in San Francisco City in 1854, and was hundreds of miles north of where the Creoles lived. As a result, while they were subject to Anglo-American administration, the Creoles were initially able to continue to preserve their way of life and customs, largely free of interference by the authorities.

The California Gold Rush had triggered even more waves of immigrants from not only Anglo-America, but Latin America, Asia, and Europe. As the gold rush died down, more began settling in southern California, and competed with the Creoles for land and business. As lawlessness and political ineptitude continued to plague the Californian government, it sought to toughen up on social order. By 1855, the political climate had changed, and the government showed renewed interest in keeping the Creole-majority South in check. In order to curb the potential rise of the Creole class, the Californian Congress passed a series of laws which undermined the French Creoles, including the enforcement of English as the Republic's official language, and tougher restrictions against non-white property ownership. These laws were met with resistance and protest, and several racially charged riots spawned from these rising tensions. The most famous 1857 Porciúncula riots saw over 15 Creole businesses burned down, 20 Creoles dead, 12 Spaniards dead, and 8 Anglo-Americans dead, as well as countless more wounded and businesses vandalized.

Early Sierran period

Lynchings in San Francisco

During the turbulent transitionary period between the Republic and the Kingdom, the Creoles were subject to vicious lynching sprees and racial pogroms, undertaken by Anglo-American vigilantes.

Towards the end of California's brief ten years of existence, the government struggled to support essential services and law enforcement. Rife with corruption and public debt, the Republic was forced to defaulted on $80 million in 2017 KSD dollars. In addition, crime and vigilantism was on the rise, with civilians taking extrajudicial enforcement and punishment to their own hands, as exemplified by the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance. Some Creoles and blacks were lynched by mobs of frustrated citizens, who accused them of stealing jobs and livelihoods.

The California Constitutional Convention of 1857 was commissioned as an effort to improve and reorganize the government, while maintaining independence for the country. Over a hundred delegates from all over the Republic were called to convene at San Francisco City, the nation's capital. Of these delegates, two Creole delegates: Jean Picard Chouteau and Leonard Landrieu, were invited to represent the Creole community at the Convention. The men were chosen because they were well-established fair-skinned Creole businessmen who owned large parcels of land throughout the Porciúncula Basin, and had a ventured interest in national politics. The men were skeptical of continued support of the Republic, and backed the monarchist movement led by Charles Miller, who promised greater stability within the framework of a democratic society. The fact that Miller was Catholic and of royal blood also heightened the appeal by the Creole delegates and many others.

During the Convention, Chouteau and Landrieu fought to include constitutional provisions on protecting ethnic and linguistic minorities, though with little success due to the overwhelming opposition of the Anglo-American majority. Although their proposals would not be incorporated into the original constitution, provisions prohibiting discrimination on account of race, ethnicity, and language would later be included in future amendments. Another point of contention was the issue of slavery, whereby the Constitution would ultimately fall silent on before it was amended two decades later after the Sierran Civil War. At the time, although true slavery in the Anglo-American sense was not practiced in Sierra, a form of peonage did exist, which included a disproportionate amount of Creoles within the system.

The ascension of Charles Miller as King Smith I was warmly received by the Creole community when they received the news. Jubilant displays of celebration and festivities were reported throughout Creole neighborhoods as they welcomed a Catholic monarch who was sympathetic to their issues. The king's supporters founded the Royalist Party of Sierra and tens of thousands of Creoles who were eligible became registered Royalists. Despite officially receiving the "king's protection", in practice, the Creoles continued to face discrimination, even by their fellow white Royalist cohorts.

Although promises for political stability were made by the Kingdom as justification for its existence, factionalism grew between the monarchists who supported the institution and the republicans who opposed it. Many republicanism objected to the monarchy because it seemed contrary to the Anglo-American republican ideas of liberty, democracy, and rule of the people. In addition, they viewed the Sierran monarchy as in allegiance to Rome. Creoles, for their part, continued to show immense support for the monarchy, and welcomed the move of the nation's capital from San Francisco City to Porciúncula in 1868.

While the move placed the Gold Coast as the new center of political power and economic capital, it signaled the decline of the Creoles' status as the majority. By 1870, thousands of Anglo-American citizens and others migrated to the Gold Coast in search of economic and political opportunities, turning the Creoles into a minority within their own homeland. In order to preserve Creole culture, French-speaking parochial schools and churches served as havens for the Creoles where they could peacefully practice their customs and language. More and more Creoles began voluntarily moving south to Grands Ballons.

The outbreak of the Sierran Civil War shook the nation, and was particularly worrisome for the Sierran Creole community as the conflict was instigated by radicalized Democratic-Republicans. Fearing that a Republican victory would result in a compromised future for the Creoles, some Creole men enlisted in the Sierran Crown Armed Forces to join the war effort. Following the war, 18 Creole men were distinguished in their service and battles, including 2 becoming honorarily knighted for their exemplary actions by the King himself.

While the Creoles' services were recognized and honored by the Sierran government, the Creoles and other minorities were continued to be denied full rights as citizens. The provincial governments still restricted voting to white men only, and few exceptions were given to the fairer-skinned Creoles, who tended to be wealthier and even held noble or gentry status. As Sierra continued growing, some Creoles moved to other parts of the country to take advantage of agricultural work, including the Inland Empire and Orange.

20th century

At the turn of the 20th century, the political and social climate of Sierra had significantly altered. Progressivism and trade unionism was on the rise in response to the outdated Gilded Age-era policies and issues, and the Creoles were no exception to becoming involved in this movement. A new generation of young, educated Creoles spawned a group of intellectuals and activists who demanded change for the betterment of their people and other minorities. Sierra's imperialist ambitions and unrestricted immigration policies created fundamental demographic shifts that challenged traditional institutional ideas, and a liberal-minded monarchy under King Lewis I yielded the perfect conditions for a massive social change. Over the decades, Sierra evolved rom a predominantly Anglo-American nation-state to one that was much more diverse. These conditions led to the beginning of the Sierran Cultural Revolution, which empowered Sierra's multiracial peoples, and improved the conditions for many of its ethnic and religious minorities.

Although the Creoles largely kept to preserving their culture and identity, the Revolution was a transformative period that saw heightened appreciation for Creole culture, as well as others. Many Creole cultural contributions entered mainstream Sierran society, and Creole dishes gained traction as the "rice frenzy" swept the nation. Although bouts of racially charged incidents occasionally flared up, and nuanced racism persisted through the decades, the Creoles were thoroughly accepted and embraced at large.

Contemporary history

In recent years, Sierran Creoles have remained politically active in preserving their traditions and heritage. Creoles' rights activists have lobbied in Parliament and the Royal Bureau of Census to recognize Sierran Creoles as a distinct race or ethnicity, and to reconsider Census definitions on racial categories. Other issues in the community is the growing wage gap between the Creoles' poorest and wealthiest. Most Creoles below poverty line make substantially less than the national average's while the wealthiest are some of the highest earning groups in the country. This visible divide within the community has become an important matter to address, and has been the subject of research and media for years.

Ancestry and race

During initial settlement by the Spaniards and the French in Sierra (then known as California), the natives who were born in the colonies were known as the Creoles, and was used indiscriminately for all races with the notable exception of the Native Amerindians. As the colonies grew and became more integrated with the rest of the Spanish Americas, new sophisticated racial definitions and the Spanish casta system developed. The intermarriages between the Europeans, the Amerindians, the mestizos, and the Africans enabled the ethnogenesis of the Sierran Creoles. The Creoles tended to marry among themselves or other whites in order to preserve or elevate their class and status, and were ranked higher than full-blooded blacks and Amerindians in the system. Many lighter-skinned Creoles and their progeny received better treatment and privileges than their darker-skinned brethren, and those with predominantly European phenotypes could even pass as white, despite having ancestral origins from other races. As a result of various racial combinations, Creole racial makeup has always been diverse and varied. Today, most Creoles with a higher percentage of African descent (who constitute the majority of Creoles) identifies themselves racially as their own unique one, while acknowledging their "blackness".

Who is Creole?

Governor Kanye West

Incumbent Gold Coast governor Martin Louis King, Jr. is Sierran Creole who fits traditional conceptions of the group.

Despite a long history of categorization, modern definitions for a Sierran Creole have not been standardized. Similar to the attitudes towards race in Latin America and other multiracial societies, the Sierran Creole people emerged from a historical background where race was complex and blurred. Generally, Sierran Creoles include anyone descended from a parent or parents who identified as Creole, people who have a demonstrable degree of racial admixture from African ancestors, and native-born black Sierrans who are Francophone. Despite these conceptions, there is a significant amount of self-identified Creoles who appear predominantly European or Latino in appearance, but are nonetheless recognized due to historic connections and blood relations. In addition, an increasing amount of biracial and multiracial Sierrans who have had no connection to the local Creole population or culture have begun identifying themselves as "Creoles". Therefore, while most Creoles may be considered black in the broadest sense, not all Creoles can be classified as such nor choose to identify as simply "black". Since 2000, the Royal Bureau of Census has listed "Sierran Creole" as a separate ethnic group, though not as a race as many have advocated for. While some Creoles check "black" as their race, and a large segment of the population choose "Some other race" or "Multiracial" when indicating their racial and ethnic origin.

Historical definitions have ranged from classifying anyone born in the Spanish colonies, irrespective of race (with the exception of members of the Amerindian tribes) as Creole to anyone with mixed ancestry, regardless of connections to Creole culture, as one as well. During the 19th century, as Asian immigration increased, those of Eurasian heritage were labeled as Creole before the Hawaiian word hapa was adopted to distinguish the new class of Eurasian Sierrans who developed their own culture and political status during the Sierran Cultural Revolution.

The below table is a generalized visualization of terms used in the historic Sierran casta system. Within the system, certain people were generally referred to as Creole, and modern conceptions regarding Creole identity have largely stemmed and persisted from this categorization system. In practice, terms were based more heavily on phenotype, thus, a person with fair-skin may be considered Criollo, even if they have had some African ancestry from a recent generation.

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