A Cajun back in Cajun country

The further I got from Texas, and the closer I got to my mom and dad’s house, the quicker I wanted to be there.  I was determined to see a few sites along the way however, so I slowed my roll and visited several places I’ve been meaning to visit for years.

I may be slightly biased, but I think that the I-10 East- Vinton Louisiana Welcome Center, at the Louisiana and Texas state line, is one of the nicest, most unique ones at which I’ve stopped this whole trip. Recently reopened after renovations, this state-of-the-art center features interactive exhibits, tons of tourism and travel information, a nature trail and boardwalk, and some of the most helpful, friendly staff I’ve encountered yet. The rocking chairs overlooking the lake/swamp area are a bonus.

After a stop at the Vinton LA welcome center, I exited I-10 at Lafayette and picked up US-90 east.  This route took me directly to one of the six Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve sites, the Acadian Cultural Center, and Vermilionville.  Time to explore these places that have been on my list for a while now.

I’ve always been proud to be Cajun and of the close-knit way I grew up.  With the exception of wayward souls like me, most people from south Louisiana still live within a 10-mile radius of their parents and where they were raised.  My cousins were my friends and playmates growing up, I saw my grandparents several times a week, and I can remember participating in family boucheries (hog slaughtering events) and church fairs well into my teens.  Crawfish boils and BBQs were seasonally common events and brought everyone together on a regular basis.  The NPS website has a couple of good videos on the history and cultural significance of crawfish boils and boucheries (and boudin!) if you would like to learn more about these Cajun traditions (click HERE to go to the website with a 7-minute video of each). 

At the Acadian Cultural Center, I watched the 35-minute film titled The Cajun Way: Echoes of Acadia, about the Acadians’ deportation from Nova Scotia to their settlement in south Louisiana. Although I already knew a lot of the information in the movie, I learned a few things at the museum in the Visitor Center.
It wasn’t until I was much older, and had moved away, that I really learned about, and started to appreciate, how diverse the Cajun and Creole populations of south Louisiana really are. Each group of colonizers, refugees, immigrants, and Native Americans contributed to the unique culture in its own way, especially in the cuisine department. The French brought peasant cooking traditions like their flour and oil-based roux. Africans brought okra (the word “gumbo” translates to “okra” in many West African languages). Louisiana Native Americans introduced the non-Natives to filé (a seasoning and thickener made from dried and ground sassafras leaves). People from the West Indies gave Cajuns a taste for hot peppers. And later, Chinese immigrants introduced shrimp drying techniques that made dried shrimp a staple in Cajun cooking (and as a snack!). All this info is from placards throughout the museum.
I remember being fascinated by my maternal grandfather’s duck decoys as a kid. Some of them were plastic, but I remember seeing wooden ones in his collection also. My PawPaw was an avid hunter, trapper, and a great cook!
A museum placard describing French used by Cajuns. Of note, a unanimous vote recently by the Louisiana Legislature passed a bill to establish the first Cajun French immersion school, called École Pointe-au-Chien. The school will be south of Montegut, in a district which services primarily members of the Pointe-au-Chien Indian tribe. One of the criteria for a Native American tribe to gain Federal recognition is to have cultural patterns, including language, that is different from those of the non-Indian populations with whom they interact. It’s a bit ironic that this tribe, who has not been able to gain Federal tribal recognition, will be the group making one of the biggest contributions to save the Cajun French language. Because they had to replace their own native tongue with Cajun French hundreds of years ago in order to survive, a part of their cultural pattern that makes them different from the Cajuns around them, has been lost to time.

Less than a mile from the Acadian Cultural Center is the Vermilionville Living History Museum and Folklife Park, a 23-acre site on the tree-covered banks of Bayou Vermilionville.  I was just going to do a quick walk-through of the buildings until I met Jay, a historian fielding questions, and providing information at the schoolhouse building.  He was a wealth of information about Louisiana culture, history, and one of my favorite topics, food!  History really comes to life when it is presented in an interactive, fun way by someone who is obviously passionate about what they do.  I was so thankful to get to share an hour or so picking his brain! 

Vermilionville Living History Museum and Folklife Park, a mix of relocated, original Cajun structures and replicas, preserves and represents Acadian, Creole, and Native American cultures of the region through historic architecture, food, music, and cultural exchange.
English became the official language in Louisiana around the turn of the 20th century, resulting in Cajun students being punished for speaking their native language in school (see the punishment on the chalkboard behind Jay and I in the photo). It’s estimated that only about 3% of Louisiana’s population speak French (Louisiana Cajun and Creole) at home now; approximately the same percentage that speaks Spanish in bayou state homes. -World Population Review website
The historic Louis Arceneaux house was built in 1840 between Carencro and Lafayette, and later relocated to Vermillionville to be part of the museum and park. According to the placard accompanying the structure, “Louis Arceneaux was the son of Pierre Arceneaux, … a refugee from Acadia as a result of le Grande Derangement (Great Expulsion), when Great Britain expelled French-speaking Catholics from eastern Canada during the 1750s for not pledging allegiance to their king. Pierre came to Louisiana, along with over a thousand fellow Acadian refugees, with the offer of free land grants from Spain.”
Now appreciated for their beauty, these quilts were certainly “function over fashion” at the time they were made.

Even though there was so much more to see, I started to feel the tug of home and returned to my bike.  In less than two hours, I arrived at my parents’ house and familiar surroundings.  Time to relax and hang out with my family for a few days! 

2 thoughts on “A Cajun back in Cajun country

Add yours

  1. I almost fell off my chair when I saw “le Grande Derangement” in the post. I lOVE that! I think I’ll have it put on my gravestone.

    Chief

    Liked by 1 person

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