Only 10 days after the U.S. celebrated Independence Day, the people of France will be sending a barrage of red, white and blue fireworks into the sky to celebrate the 226th anniversary of the start of the revolution to bring freedom to that country.
So why are Acadiana residents celebrating the holiday that commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution with the storming of the Bastille, a medieval fortress and prison located in the heart of Paris?
Michael Vincent, an alliance board member, noted that the last group of Acadiens who would eventually travel to Louisiana left France four years before the French Revolution.
“So we weren’t part of the revolution, but a gesture like this today shows that we support what happened even though we had left four years before,” Vincent said.
Christophe Pilut, president of the alliance and a native of France himself, said the Bastille Day celebration the alliance organized for Lafayette was not so much about the French people who live in Acadiana but rather is “more for Americans here to say, ‘Hey, we care about France and the French Revolution.’ ”
Celebrating Bastille Day in Lafayette served as a reminder to the people of Acadiana of their ancestral roots, according to Debra Taghehchian, former board member of the alliance and current board member for the Horse Farm, where the celebration was held Saturday.
“Knowing your ancestry is important for knowing who you are,” said Taghehchian, whose maiden name is Broussard. “For me, it’s a deeper understanding of who I am and where my family came from.”
Pilut said the mission of the nonprofit alliance is “to promote the French language, to teach it and to do everything to spread the Francophone community,” and Bastille Day offers a unique opportunity to do just that.
Aside from the Horse Farm’s weekly setup of foods and crafts, visitors on Bastille Day could listen to Cajun jams from local musicians Terry Huval and the Huval-Fuselier Trio and engage in other activities, like throwing metal balls at the “cochonnet” — a small, wooden ball — in a game of pétanque or watching as French dishes, like pastry kouign amann, were prepared from scratch.
Both Taghehchian and Vincent were enthusiastic about the current generation’s embrace of its French heritage.
Elementary schools, like Prairie and Evangeline, offer immersion programs that encourage its students to learn subjects such as science and grammar in both French and English. The Lafayette Parish School System recently converted Myrtle Place Elementary to a French immersion-only school.
Taghehchian said,“I think whenever older people — those first language speakers of French — are dying and there isn’t an in-the-family connection, (our heritage and language) does sort of get lost. You only have a certain percentage of people who are interested enough to learn a second language,” she said. “If they don’t need to use it, then they aren’t going to, but it’s great to see these kids learning that second language and being taught those subjects in French.”