French Canadians Trek to Louisiana to Meet Their Kin: Acadians Celebrate Ties to Cajuns
Buckman, Robert, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
LAFAYETTE, La. - Hundreds of French Canadians are braving distance, heat, humidity and monetary devaluation to spend two weeks with their Louisiana cousins celebrating their common roots.
They're here for the "Second Congres Mondial," a five-year reunion that brings together the Acadians of Canada's Maritime Provinces and the Cajuns of Louisiana, one people separated by a series of British deportations beginning in 1755. The First Congres was held in New Brunswick in 1994.
"So far it's been great," said Brian Gabriel Comeaux, a Scott, La., lawyer and president of the Second Congres. "It remains to be seen what this one will represent, but in Canada [in 1994], there was a wonderful sense of pride in our Acadian-ness. Unless you live in Acadia or have some kind of event that connects you with other Acadians, you will be assimilated."
The gathering kicked off Aug. 1. Eighty-five families are expected to gather at 55 reunions, complete with traditional Cajun food and music, by the time the event wraps up on Aug. 15, the Feast of the Assumption, designated as Acadian National Day in 1881.
Marc Bourgeois and his father, Valery, New Brunswick natives who live in Ottawa, attended the First Congres and were excited to make the 2,200-mile trip to Louisiana for the second.
"It shows that French culture survived in North America and not just in the province of Quebec," observed Mr. Bourgeois at a four-family reunion at Acadian Village, a replica of an early Acadian settlement in Louisiana.
"Meeting the other Bourgeois really gives me a drive," added his father. "It's exciting."
Marc Bourgeois said 600 people attended the Bourgeois family reunion opening day at Laura Plantation near here, about 150 of them Canadians.
"I like to see if there's any family resemblance," he said. "I found a [Louisiana] woman with the same mark on her arm that I have. I met a woman who has swollen arms and legs, just like my aunt. Blue eyes are also a Bourgeois thing."
"They speak the same French we do," said a surprised Valery Bourgeois.
"It's the same accent and the same words," Marc Bourgeois added. "It's 17th-century French. When I got here I was asked, `As-tu amene ton buttin?' That's a New Brunswick expression that means, did you bring all your belongings. I felt like I was home."
However, they were able to communicate in French only with those over 60 or under 30. The young generation has been exposed to French immersion in school, part of an effort to preserve the state's French heritage. Their parents, however, were forbidden to speak it in school.
"They could understand, but they couldn't speak it," Valery Bourgeois said.
The term "Acadian" derives from Acadie, an Indian word that means "Land of Plenty," which the British renamed Nova Scotia after they won Canada from France in the Seven Years War of 1756-63 (Americans call it the French and Indian War). When Acadians refused to swear allegiance to King George III, thousands were forcibly deported to distant lands while hundreds of others perished. This diaspora, which Acadians and Cajuns still call le grand derangement, was immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem "Evangeline."
A few hundred Acadians made their way to French Louisiana, which soon would be ceded to Spain, then back to France and then, in 1803, sold to the United States. They settled on the prairies and bayous, isolated from the French Creoles of New Orleans, and a separate subculture emerged. …