A French Renaissance in Louisiana

By the 1960s, immigrant and minority groups in the United States were challenging the assimilationist ideology that had pressured them to give up the heritage languages and cultures that set them apart from English-speaking mainstream American society. Francophone Louisiana was not untouched by the wave of ethnic consciousness raising that swept the country, as many in Louisiana began to openly express pride in their French cultural and linguistic heritage and to work to preserve them. These efforts led in 1968 to the founding by the Louisiana legislature of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL), whose mission it was "to do any and all things necessary to accomplish the development, utilization and preservation of the French language as found in the state of Louisiana for the cultural, economic and tourist benefit of the state." Through a series of formal agreements, CODOFIL began bringing in teachers from France, Belgium, and Quebec to staff French classes in Louisiana's schools. While this led to controversy over CODOFIL's focus on Standard French rather than local varieties, the "Foreign Language Associate" program remains a mainstay of language preservation efforts today, especially in staffing the growing number of French immersion programs, which some see as the key to the preservation of the language in Louisiana. Also beginning in the 1960s and continuing until today, "Cajun" language and identity, once stigmatized and associated with poverty and ignorance, underwent a remarkable rehabilitation to become objects of pride. Politicians such as Edwin Edwards found it advantageous to identify themselves as Cajun, and the Cajun label was increasingly used to market food and music throughout the U.S. and abroad. Cajun music became immensely popular and remains today one of the principle domains for the use of French. While most efforts at promoting and preserving French language and culture beyond the domain of education were focused on the Cajun community, Creoles of color also began working for recognition. Early efforts, such as the founding of the "UnCajuns Committee," took the form of a reaction against the intense focus on Cajun people and culture in southwest Louisiana, but subsequent Creole organizations chose not define themselves in opposition to Cajuns. These include C.R.E.O.L.E., Inc., the Louisiana Creole Heritage Center at Northwestern State University, and the Louisiana Creole Research Association (or LA Creole). Zydeco music, associated with the Creole of color community of southwest Louisiana, grew in popularity, though it is more often sung in English than is Cajun music, which tends to be sung in French.The French revival movement also gave rise to a new generation of writers, many of whom published their work in the landmark collection Cris sur le bayou, which appeared in 1980. The following year, Creole poet Sybil Kein published a collection of poetry in Louisiana Creole titled Gumbo People. In subsequent decades numerous collections of poetry and other writings in French and Creole have been published, often by younger writers. Some of these, such as Kirby Jambon's L'Ecole gombo, have been published by Louisiana's unique francophone press, Editions Tintamarre, which was founded by Dana Kress at Centenary College and focuses on publishing contemporary Louisiana authors as well as nineteenth-century Louisiana titles that are out of print.