A full day of music, food and dance with a purpose awaits visitors to the Evergreen Cajun Center on the first weekend of June.
The Cajun French Music Association of Bayou Cajuns Festival starts at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 6, and promises two accomplished Cajun bands.
The festival runs until 5 p.m. and includes a fundraising auction and 50/50 lottery with proceeds going to the association, which promotes the continued presence of Cajun music and culture in the Bayou Region.
“It is important to keep our music alive, our language, our French heritage and our culture,” the association’s president Margaret Hebert said. “We are losing it in this area. Most of our schools don’t even have French classes
A key signature of local Cajun culture is music. Rachel Wilson with the Cajun Express Band starts the music off at 10 a.m.; from 1 to 5 p.m., the local band Cajun Sunrise takes over the stage.
And if you feel the urge to dance to their music but think you don’t know how, Hebert said, lessons are available.
“If someone wants to learn how to dance they can learn the Cajun jig, the Cajun waltz and the two-step,” Hebert said.
Admission is $8 per person and $15 for a couple. Children under 12 are admitted free of charge.
“We will also have out foods, different gumbos, along with soft drinks and beer,” Hebert said.
The association is part of a regional network that has 10 chapters, with clubs not only in Louisiana but also in Chicago.
A board of directors from various localities meets once per month to develop ways of better keeping the culture alive, Hebert said. And a national convention held in Lafayette each year promotes the culture through events like a French language contest for children.
Hebert said that in her experience young children are especially appreciative of the good time that can be passed at club events. And for those with Cajun roots or who wish they had them, a family-friendly event like this month’s festival can go a long way toward promoting love and respect for the culture.
“I didn’t bring my children up with a Cajun heritage but I am trying to get the language back,” Hebert said. “People come from out of state, even out of the country and they love learning about our Cajun heritage.”
Hebert, a bookkeeper at the Thoma-Sea shipyard, said the networking opportunities are also numerous because members of the various chapters attend each other’s events.
Cajuns are – for the most part – descendants of French-Acadian settlers who were exiled from what became the British colony of Nova Scotia back in the 18th Century. Settling in various places, but concentrated in Louisiana, they managed to keep their language and developed unique music while keeping their families fed through fishing, hunting and farming.
The French language was repressed decades ago by public school educators who punished children for speaking it.
But a strong movement has emerged that treasures the language and seeks to preserve it.
“I try to speak and my husband laughs at me because I will speak half a sentence in French and then revert to English,” Hebert said.
Festivals like this one, she said, help her stay closer to cultural roots she and other members are eager to share.
“We are doing out best to keep it alive,” Hebert said. •