A Simi Valley park took on overtones of the Louisiana Bayou country Saturday as hundreds gathered for an all-day party that resembled a huge Cajun and Creole family reunion.
The crowd dined on barbecued alligator tail and boiled crawfish, sported Mardi Gras masks and listened to bands composed of fiddlers, accordionists, harmonica players and washboard thumpers.
The first Bayou Simi Cajun/Creole Cultural Festival at Strathearn Park, a fund-raiser for Polio Plus sponsored by the Simi Valley Sunrise Rotary Club, was pronounced a success by organizers.
About 30,000 to 40,000 people in Southern California have Cajun and Creole backgrounds, said Rotarian Bobby Weiszmann. "It's a hidden culture that no one seems to know about," he said.
Lorraine Manuel DeLille, a fifth-generation Creole who lives in Los Angeles, gave some background about the culture.
"Cajuns were brought to Louisiana originally on ships" from the French colony of Acadia in Canada. "They're born and reared in the swamp areas, and are mostly Caucasian . . . Creoles are a mixture of Spanish, French and black. They're born and reared in the city--New Orleans," she said.
Both groups are very friendly, very family oriented and almost all events focus on food and music, DeLille said.
Cajun and Creole food such as gumbo, boudin and pralines were sold at about half of the 16 booths throughout the park and devoured at picnic tables, on top of bales of hay and on the grass.
Booths not selling refreshments displayed handicrafts and T-shirts with a Cajun/Creole motif. At one table, Mardi Gras masks were featured, another had necklaces with tiny crab charms, while a third sold stuffed animals and dolls.
Those who weren't eating or buying were usually dancing. Four bands played throughout the day, from noon to 8 p.m., all performing zydeco or Cajun music.
Cajun music is more folk-oriented, while zydeco music has a faster beat and has more of a blues influence, said Pat Harrison, 33, of Santa Monica. She has no Cajun or Creole background but said she enjoys attending many of the Cajun/Creole festivals in the Los Angeles area.
"You see a lot of familiar faces at these things," she said. "There are a surprising amount of transplants here."
The Simi Valley festival was smaller and "much more homey" than most, Harrison said.
Other highlights of the festival included a gumbo cook-off and a zydeco dance contest. A children's Mardi Gras parade and Cajun dancing lessons were also offered.
"We hope to raise $5,000," said Weiszmann, one of the festival's organizers. "We hope to do it every year."