On a recent Saturday, Harvard doctoral candidate Thenesoya Martin spoke to a crowd of Canary Island descendants at the Ascension Parish Library about taking part in a project aimed at chronicling the history of Canary Island descendants in the U.S.
The idea for the project was birthed 20 years ago when Martin was a university freshman. She met a Canary Island descendant and resident of the St. Bernard area who attended a linguistics conference to sing the traditional poems of his people, and this meeting eventually inspired her to produce a book about the descendants of the Canary Islands.
Martin and her husband, Anibal Martin, a photojournalist, both hail from Gran Canaria and are working together to complete the project.
Gran Canaria is in the Canary Islands, which are off the coast of northwestern Africa.
The goal is to produce a book that creates an approachable history of the Canary Island descendants.
Thenesoya said, “I started reading books about the Canary Island descendants, but I could only find two types of books, linguistic and history books, which were both really deep and cold.”
Thenesoya said she felt the best way to tell the people's stories was to come to the area and gather them for herself.
“Our goal is to find the people, show their faces and tell the story behind each person,” said Thenesoya. “The only way to do that was to come here to tell their stories ourselves. In the Canary Islands, we know about these people, but we don’t know what they look like because nobody has come here to do this kind of research.”
Anibal uses his skills as a photojournalist to help tell the story of each descendant in an engaging way.
“Every person has a different history, so for each photo, I combine the landscape, their history and the portrait to tell the story," Anibal said. "The landscape in Louisiana is amazing to me, and the people here are very special.”
Kevin Morales, a 42-year-old resident of Raceland, and member of the Canary Islanders Heritage Society of Louisiana, attended the meeting after hearing about the project on Facebook.
Morales said, “When I was younger, I would get asked, ‘What is a Morales doing in south Louisiana?’ and I had no idea. I had always heard that we were from the Canary Islands, so I got on Ancestry.com and found out my family settled in Bayou Lafourche in 1780. The Canary Island people who came over got absorbed with the French, so it surprised me to find out that’s where we came from.”
Thenesoya and Anibal have been working on the project for the past four years and have visited Louisiana a total of eight times.
This trip was aimed at gathering more photos along with documents from LSU Special Collections, baptism records of descendants born in the area and having a meeting with the Louisiana State Museum to set up an exhibition of their work for the near future.
The project, called CSISLANDERUS, is entirely self-funded so the Martins rely on the support of organizations, grants and their crowd-funded website to display their project to the public.
The project's name, is formed from the combination of pieces that represent the union of two cultures: Canary plus Islander plus US, according to the project's website.
"We wanted to allude playfully to the United States acronym, while making a reference to the plural personal pronoun us. Therefore, our project unites the Canary Islanders from both sides, the ones from the US, and the ones from the archipelago," the websites says.
“All of our vacations and holidays are invested in this project," Thenesoya said. "This is the first exhibition there has ever been about this community. The book is going to be a compilation so that someone who buys the book can know the stories and read the history of all the Canarian descendants in the U.S.”
To find out more about the project or to donate to the campaign, visit www.cislanderus.com.