On "Beauty"

Wendy Gaudin

The story about Beauty came to me in a conversation with a good friend who was asking about the origins of Louisiana Creole people. One thing that kept rising to the surface was this idea that Creoles (especially women) are generally known for their beauty and not much else. Of course, Louisiana Creole women have so many other attributes, as women of other cultural and ethnic backgrounds have, but our supposed beauty is something that arrives over and over again in our family narratives. So I began contemplating beauty as a characteristic that masks other characteristics, makes visible other characteristics, and especially silences suffering and struggle.

Beauty as a trait became embodied in a character, a woman who is a common ancestor to us all. She is the mother of us all. Her origins are in three main historical phenomena: the trade in slaves by settlers to Louisiana, the displacement of Louisiana's indigenous people, and the creative, ingenious ways of overcoming suffering practiced by enslaved people themselves. We are settler/indigenous/slave all at the same time.

I am writing other narratives about this ancestor, looking at her in other periods in history, looking at her from different angles. But regardless of the angle, she is always Beauty.

Wendy A. Gaudin

Wendy A. Gaudin is an American historian, an essayist, a poet, and a university educator. She is the descendant of Louisiana Creoles who migrated to California. Her essays explore Creole history and narrative, coming of age in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, and her experiences traveling and living in Vietnam. Her essay, "Unwanted Letters," was recently featured in Passages North's Writers on Writing Series.

Illustration by Justin Perkins. Justin Perkins graduated from College for Creative Studies. A freelance illustrator and designer, he teaches art in Detriot. Justin’s first illustration for the North American Review appeared in issue 298.4.