Cultural Symbols in the Southwest

Distinct cultures typically have recognizable symbolic markers that can articulate a region's unique identity. With fairly extensive travel in any of these distinct regions, this fact becomes more appreciable. Contrasting symbols from Louisiana and New Mexico/the southwest allows for a more thorough understanding of how groups use particular images to express their feelings about their heritage and identity.

fleur de lis
The fleur de lis is a common symbol in southern Louisiana. Its meaning is deeply rooted in the Cajun and Creole cultures that recognize it as a link to their French ancestry. As such, its likeness has appeared on a range of products (from earrings to wrought-iron d├ęcor) and has been associated with major sports teams (from the Ragin' Cajuns to the New Orleans Saints).

the Zia
Similarly, two particular images have appeared consistently on our trek through the southwest: the Zia and Kokopelli. Known primarily because of its central position on the flag of New Mexico, the Zia is a circle with four clusters of four extensions. Its significance is derived from the sacred value of the number four for the Zia people: four winds/directions, four stages of life, four seasons, and four parts of the day. Not only does it appear on the state flag, it also provided the inspiration for the design of the New Mexico state capitol building (imagine a fleur de lis in Baton Rouge).

Kokopelli is a deity that has a deep meaning for several Native American tribes in the southwest (from the Hopi to the Zuni). Understandably, that meaning varies from tribe to tribe, but fertility and good travels are commonly associated with this figure. Much like the Zia and the fleur de lis, Kokopelli can be found in/on jewelry, articles of clothing, shop signs, and even tattoos.

Groups seem to latch on to a particular symbol in an attempt to express their unique identity through one instantly recognizable image. A phenomenon that I believed to be at its strongest in southern Louisiana is just as common in the southwest.

*Kokopelli image from:; Zia image from:

- Daniel Manuel

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