Although Louisiana’s French-speaking population had multiple origins and arrived over a long period of time, over the years the group identity coalesced into two predominate groups, the Acadian/Cajun group and the Black Creole group.
The Acadians were deported from Acadia in Canada beginning in 1755 and began finding a refuge in Louisiana in 1764. The last groups of Acadians arrived in Louisiana in 1785. In all, about 3000 Acadians arrived in Louisiana, creating a New Acadia. But others either avoided deportation from Acadia or gradually made their way back to the Maritime Provinces of Canada where they re-established their families. There is a large, vibrant group of Acadians in Canada who are very aware of the existence of Acadians in Louisiana and consider us their cousins.
People of Acadian origin in Louisiana are technically a subgroup of Cajuns, but most Louisiana and East Texas Francophones, even those who are not of Acadian origin, still identify with the Acadian culture and use the words Cajun and Acadian as synonyms, with Acadian having a slightly more sophisticated connotation.
The athletic teams of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette are called the “Ragin’ Cajuns,” but the university yearbook is named “L’Acadien.” The name of the university’s campus radio station is
KRVS/Radio Acadie. The French music and food festival every October in Lafayette is called “Festivals Acadiens et Créoles” with the word Acadien used to mean Cajun. A twenty-two parish Acadian/Cajun area is officially designed Acadiana by the State of Louisiana. In common usage, Cajun and Acadian mean the same thing.
Louisiana has hundreds of businesses and streets that include Acadian or Evangeline in their names. Here in Jennings we have Acadian Eye Care and Optical, Acadian Ambulance, Acadian Apartments and Rue de l’Acadie as well as Évangéline’s Restaurant. Lake Arthur has Evangeline Apartments.
Louisiana has civil parishes named Acadia and Evangeline. As soon as we cross Bayou Nezpique after leaving Jennings, we are in the community of Evangeline, which is named after Longfellow’s Acadian literary heroine.
Louisiana hosted the 1999 Congrès Mondial Acadien and has sent delegations to every Congrès Mondial Acadien in Canada. Louisiane-Acadie association has hosted two international events called Le Grand Réveil Acadien.
The Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville is dedicated specifically to Acadian history and Louisiana has Acadian museums throughout the state, notably one in Erath. Baton Rouge, the state capital, has a major road named the Acadian Thruway and the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge houses the original pre-deportation church registers of Grand Pré from Acadie (Nova Scotia). Lafayette has a major road named the Evangeline Thruway.
Some of the internationally prominent spokespersons of the Acadian people of both Canada and Louisiana have been from Louisiana, such as Senator Dudley LeBlanc, Warren Perrin and Zachary Richard. Many Louisiana Acadians have described the Acadian experience in books, songs and films.
Most of the Acadians in Canada live in the Maritime Provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Every year many young people from Louisiana take summer immersive French courses at St. Anne University in Church Point, Nova Scotia, where they learn how closely the Louisiana and Canadian Acadian cultures are related. And a major component of that culture is our French language.
So we don’t have to pull out genealogical charts to know if we are Acadians. Acadia is not a place on a map. It is a place in our hearts.
David E. Marcantel