Francophone Activism in Cajun Country

February 16, 2011 5:45 AM

Michaela Gibboni

On their own, with heavy moral support from the Tulane French department, three Tulane students are embarking this semester on a type of self-described “francophone activism” in their native Lafayette, La. Seniors Erin Roussel and Zach Hebert and junior Sam Cook are working with younger students between the ages of 13 and 18 in the hopes of “facilitating a French extracurricular activity,” says Roussel.

french students

Francophiles Zach Hebert, from left, Sam Cook and Erin Roussel, students studying French at Tulane, are spreading their love of French among youth in Acadiana. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

The Tulane students have formed the Association Jeunesse de Lafayette with the main goal of moving away from a purely academic setting and providing a fun and relaxed French-speaking environment, says Cook. Beyond holding meetings entirely in French, the group draws on Cajun influence from the area to integrate into their sessions.

“We grew up in the most Cajun-positive area in Louisiana,” says Roussel. In fact, Roussel, Hebert and Cook all have Cajun backgrounds. But speaking Cajun French and participating in traditional Cajun activities are more of a novelty than a reality for them. “I didn’t grow up on the bayou,” laughs Roussel. “I’ve never even been fishing!”  

Roussel, Hebert and Cook value their rich Cajun heritage as a supplement to their lessons with the students in Lafayette, but they try not to restrict the program too much. The goal for the Association Jeunesse de Lafayette is to incorporate local Cajun influence while maintaining a multicultural appeal, says Cook.

The organization is just beginning its second month, and Hebert, Roussel and Cook have big plans for the future. They hope to organize a French discussion group in October at the annual Acadian Festival held in Lafayette. The Association Jeunesse de Lafayette currently is under the flagship of a larger nonprofit, but the students plan to seek nonprofit status for their Association Jeunesse after October.

Michaela Gibboni is a sophomore student at Tulane majoring in communication and Spanish.

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