Creole culture is fun to enjoy, better when “your legs keep moving,” Cultural Heritage Showcase fun nears

Published 12:18 am Thursday, October 5, 2023

When Rita Manuel hears a zydeco beat, she’s on her feet, dancing.

With a soft laugh at just the thought of it, she explains the emotions of it all.

“Well, I’ll tell you what, I feel so free and expressive. I just can’t get enough of it. As long as your legs keep moving,” she said. “Zydeco — it’s just everything.”

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The City of Port Arthur is rich with culture, and residents from all across the world have made Port Arthur their home. The Quasquicentennial Committee welcomes all to the Cultural Heritage Showcase Oct. 14 at Bob Bowers Civic Center, 3401 Cultural Center Drive in Port Arthur, for a showcase of multicultural diversity.

In addition to live music, folk art and gumbo, Rita Manuel will join her husband Pete in the Creole area of the Cultural Heritage Showcase. John and Sheila Manuel, her brother-in-law and sister-in-law, will also represent.

“I want people to know that the culture has been prevalent in the city of Port Arthur since its beginning. A lot of people migrated down to Port Arthur and the Golden Triangle area,” Rita Manuel said.

Zydeco has evolved from blues, jazz, African-American and Cajun music and is famous for getting people moving.

Listen for live accordion and scrub board music in this booth with videos as well.

John Manuel, a noted folk artist, will display his paintings.

“And yes, we’ll have gumbo,” Rita Manuel said, noting food is an important aspect of celebrating any culture.

“We express our pride in our food and our dance. It’s really about the genealogy of it. I’m proud to be able to express that with other people.”

She noted zydeco great C. J. Chenier is honored at the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur.

As restaurant manager of St. Mary Hospital, Manuel spent more than 30 years professionally making gumbos that became Rotary Taste of Gumbo highlights. For this showcase, the focus is on a Creole recipe.

“Our Creole gumbo came down from Africa. They made their gumbo with okra. It’s really the okra that was prevalent. Whatever you want to add to it, there’s going to be some,” she said.

This Quasquicentennial showcase will be a fun and important part of passing on traditions that Manuel says must continue.

“We want to remind people to learn their cultures and teach it to the kids,” Manuel said.

— Written by Darragh Castillo