ERATH — It was French that attracted Acadians to Louisiana.
After years of imprisonment, Joseph Beausoleil Broussard brought his band of Acadians to the West Indies and then followed the language of his people to New Orleans in 1765.
From there they crossed the Atchafalaya and settled and cultivated what we would call Acadiana.
Warren Perrin tells this story to the patrons of the Acadian Museum – Acadian Museum – in Erath.
The 75-year-old lawyer and museum founder does so in English and French, switching between the two languages effortlessly, as he did in Henry’s bilingual childhood home.
Today, Louisiana is home to about 250,000 French speakers, including Perrin and the men visiting his museum on Friday. But just a generation or two ago, Bayou State had more than a million French speakers.
“Our language is imploding because we don’t use it enough,” Perrin said. “We’re not expanding it in Louisiana. We have a very valuable commodity. We have to save it.”
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This is why it has become so important for leaders in Louisiana and Acadia to mark the month of March as Francophonie Monthparticipating in a global celebration of the French language, Francophone culture and the diversity of those who speak it.
“Celebrating the French language and culture is extremely important for a state with such a rich history and connection to the French-speaking world,” read a statement from the consolidated Lafayette government.
French is the fifth most spoken language in the world with more than 369 million French speakers on the planet.
Bayou State educators and government officials have long been involved in the effort to increase the number of French speakers through the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana.
Created in 1968, this state agency aimed to make up for the decades of repression of the Cajun French language and culture in Louisiana. For years, French was not allowed to be spoken in public schools or public places, but today 5,500 students are enrolled in French immersion statewide, according to a statement.
“The future of the French language is the immersion program,” said Perrin, who was president of CODOFIL from 1994 to 2010. “We are seeing great results. There is more demand.”
Most French immersion teachers come from French-speaking countries around the world. For the 2021-22 school year, teachers have come from France, Belgium, Canada, Cameroon, Senegal, Tunisia, Spain, Mexico, Madagascar and Argentina to teach in educational programs. French and Spanish Immersion in Louisiana Public Schools.
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“These teachers are making a remarkable impact,” CODOFIL CEO Peggy Feehan said before the start of the fall semester. “Through their work in our schools, young Louisianans not only learn a second language, but also learn about our state’s unique place in the world.
“The immersion education opens countless doors for these students and exposes them to cultures around the world, while shedding light on Louisiana’s rich culture, heritage, and history.”
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Today, the community celebrates language and culture through the Acadian and Creole Festivals and the Festival International de Louisiane, Acadian staples that we missed so much at the start of the pandemic. But it has not always been so.
“You had a 4th of July festival and a rice festival, but there was no semblance of Cajun culture,” Perrin explained.
Then, in 1974, he distinctly remembers his parents driving from Henry to Blackham Coliseum in Lafayette in the pouring rain to see a performance of French Cajun music, among the first of its kind in the region and a catalyst for more festivals.
“And the rest is history,” Perrin said.
Contact Leigh Guidry, Children’s Issues Reporter, at Lguidry@theadvertiser.com or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.