Mayors from French-speaking countries around the globe gathered Monday in Lafayette, an international recognition of the vibrancy of French culture and language in Acadiana.
“We are sending a message that there are Francophones in North America,” said Denis Coderre, mayor of Montreal and among a group of more than 30 mayors from 22 countries attending the International Association of Francophone Mayors board of directors meeting.
Coderre, who was on his first visit to Louisiana, said choosing Lafayette as the site of the annual meeting also gives locals a sense of how connected their culture is with the larger Francophone world, sending a “strong message to the people who live here.”
It is the first time the International Association of Francophone Mayors has met in the United States.
The association rotates the site of its annual meeting and chose Lafayette in part because of its rich French history and in part because Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel is the only mayor in the United States to sign up as a member of the international network.
“You never know what benefits will come from this,” Durel said. “The showcasing of Lafayette to the world has a very unique appeal for us.”
In remarks made in French, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, president of the association, saluted Lafayette for joining the group and applauded efforts by the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana to keep the French language alive in the state.
The mayors gathered to discuss economic development programs, mutual aid, culture and big-picture policies.
The public portion of the meeting in Lafayette just touched on those issues and was used more as an opportunity to announce a proposed North American Francophone network to link French-speaking areas from Quebec City in Canada down to Lafayette.
“You will find traces of French culture from the Great Lakes down to south Louisiana,” said Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume, who is working with Durel on the project.
Labeaume said the proposed network would support and nurture North American Francophone communities and promote those areas as tourist destinations.
“There is growing interest in cultural and heritage tourism, so why not pool our strengths,” Labeaume said. “We are working hard to develop a vibrant network that brings us together.”
Durel said he envisions south Louisiana playing a substantial role in that network, considering the history of the region, and he plans to lobby other south Louisiana mayors to join the international group.
“There are enough mayors to give this some momentum,” he said.
Follow Richard Burgess on Twitter, @rbb100.