Over the past several decades, Cajun food and music have became popular nationwide, and it’s not unusual to find a “Cajun” sandwich at an American fast-food joint or to hear a south Louisiana artist performing in San Francisco or New York City.
Understanding the culture and being excited about preserving the French language in Louisiana is another story, said Jennifer Perenchio, event coordinator at the Grand Réveil Acadien, or the Great Acadian Awakening. The event, set for Oct. 3-12 throughout south Louisiana, is designed to promote the French heritage in Acadiana.
“People here who are Cajun, speak Cajun. What are they doing with that?” Perenchio said. “We’re trying to remind people that they should be proud of being Cajun, teach them about their heritage.”
The nine-day festival will include live musical performances, exhibits, genealogy workshops, cultural lectures, history seminars and more.
Grand Réveil is hosted by the non profit Louisiane-Acadie, an organization dedicated to connecting Acadians worldwide and to educate people about the cultural heritage of Cajuns and Louisiana. The organization launched the first Great Acadian Awakening in 2011 with events in Houma, Lake Charles, Lafayette and New Orleans.
The goal of Louisiane-Acadie was to host a Grand Réveil every five years, Perenchio said, but 2015 marks the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Acadians to Louisiana from their exile in Europe, which provided a great historical backdrop.
“We wanted to celebrate the arrival because it’s the time of the largest group of Acadians coming into Louisiana,” she said.
The Acadians, known locally as Cajuns, were exiled by the English from their homeland in the Maritime Provinces of Canada beginning in 1755. They were sent throughout the 13 colonies, the Caribbean and Europe.
Many later found a new home in Louisiana, then governed by Spain, which welcomed Catholic citizens sympathetic to their culture.
Most of the people who attended the 2011 event knew of this culture, said Samantha Cook, a Grand Réveil event coordinator.
This year’s Grand Réveil will focus on education, including trying to attract more young people who may not know Cajun history. Activities include a special section on youth programming, for instance, including a tour of an Acadian Village, concerts, kayaking and canoeing at Lake Martin and a performance of “Cajun Face,” a comedic tale of what it’s like to be Cajun by Acadiana actors Sarah Mikayla Brown and Lian Cheramie.
“In Louisiana, we have a lot of pride in our food and in our music,” Cook said. “This is about trying to inspire more interest in our ancestry. We want the Cajuns in Louisiana to feel connected to the Acadians in Canada. We want them to see the bigger picture.”
Grand Réveil’s opening ceremonies will be in Lake Charles with speeches by dignitaries and a performance by 2015 Grammy Award winner Jo-El Sonnier.
On Oct. 9, the Toujours là et on Quittera pas (which means “We’re still here, we’re not leaving”) conference will focus on Acadian heritage with workshops, lectures, presentations and family gatherings from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Cajundome in Lafayette.
The celebration concludes Oct. 11 with a Cajun Tintamarre after a French Mass at St. John Cathedral in downtown Lafayette. Tintamarre is a Canadian Acadian festival in which participants wear the colors of Acadie — red, white, blue and yellow — and make noise by beating on pots and pans and the like, reminding the world that Acadians are still here and promoting their culture. The Fête de Grand Réveil Concert follows featuring performances by La Récolte, Jambalaya and Sweet Crude at Warehouse 535 in Lafayette.
Other events will occur during the run of the festival in several cities throughout Acadiana.
Like 2011’s Grand Réveil, this year’s events will coincide with Festivals Acadiens et Créole, which will be Oct. 9-11 in Girard Park. Grand Réveil also ties in with Bach Lunch Oct. 9 and ArtWalk Oct. 10 in downtown Lafayette.
For information on Grand Réveil, including sponsorships and volunteering, visit http://louisiane-acadie.com/.