Local author describes parish’s diverse history

Gina Zanutto
Stephen Estopinal

Prolific regional writer Stephen Estopinal aims to expose the details of the area’s Spanish Colonial and Early American period, or the late 18th and early 19th centuries, to the average Louisiana reader.

“It is a time in Louisiana history that is not well known, yet one of tremendous growth and emigration,” Estopinal said. “It is important to learn how diversified the early settlers of Ascension Parish were. Germans, Canary Islanders, Acadians, French, English, Spanish, Africans, Haitians and Houmas are just a few of the nations that contributed to this parish.”

Estopinal’s two recent novels, El Tigre de Nueva Orleans and Incident at Blood River, describe the specific connection shared by Louisiana and the Canary Islands, a chain of Spanish islands located off the west coast of Africa, as well as the immigrant history of the Ascension Parish region. The writings also reflect the rotating land ownership of the Louisiana territory between France, England, Spain and the United States.

“The boundary between Ascension Parish and East Baton Rouge Parish used to be an international boundary, first between France and England, then Spain and England, and finally Spain and the United States,” Estopinal said. “The settlement of Galvez, abandoned in 1813 or so, was populated by families from the Canary Islands, known as Islenos, brought to Louisiana by Spain.”

He is the current treasurer of the Canary Islanders Heritage Society of Louisiana, a group of genealogical and historical activists. Members developed the group in 1996 to foster the commonality of Canary Island heritage in Louisiana and in the United States as a whole.

“The Canary Islanders Heritage Society of Louisiana often meets in Baton Rouge, but it is committed to discovering the history of settlers from those islands where ever they can be found in Louisiana and the world,” Estopinal said.

“Gonzales, Diez, Diaz, Martinez and Mendoza are just a few of the names brought to Ascension Parish from the Canary Islands.”

His works “focus on the Louisiana-Canary Islands connection” and provide historical accounts of islanders’ settlement in Donaldsonville and Galvez.

“My books teach history by telling stories that are entertaining and historically-based,” Estopinal said.

Estopinal was displaced during Hurricane Katrina and has lived in Ascension Parish for five years. Since 1971, the author, a former U.S. Army Combat Engineer, owned a surveying and engineering company in St. Bernard Parish, however, it was destroyed by the storm, prompting his move.

“Ascension Parish is home to both of my brothers-in-law, and the people here are wonderful, friendly and family-oriented,” Estopinal said. “One of my daughters and my son have lived in Ascension as well. This is a good place to live.”

Despite losing his previous business, Estopinal has established a similar surveying and engineering firm, SJB Group, in the area. This company handles many construction and development projects within the parish.

“We are working on the Hwy. 73 widening project and have several contracts with the Ascension Parish government to perform roadway right-of-way and drainage surveys,” Estopinal said.

While managing his organization, Estopinal is currently writing and researching for two other novels, Anna and Escape from Gran Canaria. He stated that the books are appropriate for those 14 years of age and older due to mild violence and limited sexual situations.

“The books are appropriate for anyone 14 years and older,” Estopinal said. “There is no foul language, no torrid love scenes, no graphic violence; but people do fall in love, and there are wars and duels.”

In honor of his two aforementioned novels, Estopinal was invited to attend the 2011 Louisiana Book Festival, held in Baton Rouge in October. The festival will feature a discussion on the Canary Islands, in which Estopinal will participate, and the event will also include numerous book signings and author-interviews.

El Tigre de Nueva Orleans and Incident at Blood River, as well as Estopinal’s other works, are available at the majority of major books retailers, including online literature purveyors.