Children and adults celebrated the cultures that helped to shape the area Saturday during the Ascension Parish Library’s Explore Your Heritage event in Gonzales.
Activities ranging from music and dance to educational lectures on history and genealogy gave attendees of this first-time event engaging ways of learning about the particular cultures that have shaped both their personal lives and the city of Gonzales.
“Louisiana is such a melting pot,” said Jordan Hendrix, a librarian, “and we wanted to bring communities together.”
After the Gonzales Committee on Cultural Affairs approached the Ascension Parish Library about putting on a cultural event, Library Director Angelle Deshautelles met with colleagues to come up with a way to involve residents in an in-depth exploration of Spanish, African, Native American, German, Irish, Italian and French cultures and their influence on Gonzales. The Jambalaya Festival Association provided free lunch.
“We love doing this kind of thing,” Deshautelles said.
Shelly Miller, a youth services librarian for the Ascension Parish Library, said they picked the featured cultures based on research, common knowledge and stories shared by local administrators.
Events for the children showcased traditional African song and dance by Kumbuka Drum and Dance Collective, fairy tales with a Cajun twist by Sheila Hébert-Collins and a visit from two live alligators provided by the Insta-Gator Ranch and Hatchery. Kids also participated in arts and crafts that helped them learn more about the history of each culture and how it relates to Gonzales specifically.
Children attended each station or presentation to earn a stamp in their educational passport, a booklet put together by Miller.
Jennifer Huddleston, who attended the event with her two foster children and three of their friends, praised the Ascension Parish Library for “well-thought-out activities.”
For adults, the library offered many book talks and speeches on history and genealogy throughout the day, along with tours of the library’s Genealogy/Local History section.
Warren Perrin and Mary Broussard Perrin started the day off with a history of Cajun culture, speaking about their book, “Acadie Then and Now: A People’s History.”
Marie Rundquist, an author and genealogist, explained how DNA helps provide “comprehensive historical narratives” that give a voice to previously unheard ancestors. Rundquist later gave a second speech on genetic genealogy case studies. Dr. Ibrahima Seck, author and research director of Whitney Plantation, spoke on the history of West Africa and its influence on Southern culture. Michael N. Henderson closed the event with a speech on his award-winning book, “Got Proof! My Genealogical Journey Through the Use of Documentation.”
The Ascension Parish Library offers many resources for those in Gonzales researching genealogy and heritage available to residents daily. Christopher Achee, a librarian, explained that access to Ancestry.com, local records from churches, microfilm of newspapers and personal family records donated to the library provide diverse options for those interested in finding out more about their own cultural history and familial past. All of these resources are located in the library’s Genealogy/Local History section, which has two dedicated computers and a printer/scanner.
Many staff members of the Ascension Parish Library went to genealogical workshops before the event, Deshautelles noted, to help gather research and get ideas for the types of activities and presentations they wanted for the event.
“We hope we’ll be able to continue doing cultural events like this in the future,” Deshautelles said.