BREAUX BRIDGE — Proud Cajuns can let the world know how they feel about their heritage with new prestige license plates that went on sale Tuesday to raise money for French immersion programs in the state.
The new license plate reads “I’m Cajun ... and Proud” and features an image of a crawfish crawling over an accordion with a fleur-de-lis in the background.
A portion of the license plate fee helps support efforts by the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana to train teachers for French language immersion programs.
“It’s a way to fund a beautiful thing,” said state Rep. Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge, who sponsored the legislation to create the new license plate. “We are losing our French language for no other reason than it’s not practiced.”
Huval said he learned French at the feet of his grandparents, but he believes organized immersion programs are the only way to keep the language alive at a time when the older, French-speaking generation is slipping away.
“Without this, we would have lost the French language,” he said.
The new plates are available not only to bona fide Cajuns but to anyone else who wants to support the language that is the backbone of Cajun culture, Huval said.
The idea for the prestige plate emerged after Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2012 vetoed $100,000 from the CODOFIL budget, cutting it down to about $152,000.
The new license plate costs $15 per year in addition to the standard license plate fees that apply depending on vehicle type, with $11.50 of that dedicated to training teachers for French immersion programs, C ODOFIL Executive Director Joseph Dunn said .
State Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia, said the new license plates could make a great Christmas gift that supports a good cause.
“You can’t get that at Wal-Mart or anywhere else,” he said.
Mills backed a related bill in this year’s session that allows drivers to have “I’m a Cajun” printed on their drivers license for an annual fee of $5, with those proceeds also supporting CODOFIL.
That option will be available starting Jan. 1, Mills said.
The “I’m Cajun ... and Proud” license plates are available at state Office of Motor Vehicles offices throughout south Louisiana.
Saralyn Carpenter, of Youngsville, bought one of the first, traveling from Youngsville in the cold and rain Tuesday morning to get her new plate at the Breaux Bridge OMV, where Huval held an event to celebrate the launch of the new plates.
“It’s just phenomenal. The heritage is all there,” she said of the design. “I love the crawfish and the accordion. It’s all Louisiana.”
The launch of new prestige plates comes as CODOFIL is still struggling with budget issues to support immersion programs that serve about 5,000 students at 29 schools in nine parishes.
CODOFIL’s b udget of $152,000 has a deficit of $20,000 that has been filled through donations, Dunn said.
He said the agency a gain will ask the state next year to restore the $100,000 that was cut from the budget in 2012.
The money from the license plates and driver ’ s licenses is dedicated to teacher training programs, but those programs will be of limited use i f CODOFIL does not have enough money to operate, Dunn said.
Editor’s Note: This article was changed on Nov. 27, 2013, to reflect that the $15 cost for the Cajun Pride license plate is in addition to the standard costs that apply for a license plate, based on the type of vehicle.