The remarkable worldwide community of French-speaking peoples obviously includes many of us here in Louisiana, and a first meeting of mayors from Francophone cities across the globe underlined the message “that there are Francophones in North America,” in the words of Denis Coderre, mayor of Montreal.
He and the mayor of Paris led a delegation of more than 30 mayors from 22 countries to the Lafayette session of the International Association of Francophone Mayors. It is the first time that the group had met in the United States.
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.”
“You never know what benefits will come from this,” Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel said. “The showcasing of Lafayette to the world has a very unique appeal for us.”
Needless to say, though, that is true of all of southern Louisiana. Names like Lafayette, Baton Rouge and New Orleans are redolent of the state’s historic French connections. Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden has announced plans to join the assoication of Francophone mayors as Durel had done.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu greeted the group at Gallier Hall. Like Durel, he embraces promotion of our relations, cultural and economic, with Francophone cities around the world, and emphasized the city’s long-standing desire to nurture these relationships.
Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, praised those in Louisiana — including the important Council for the Development of French in Louisiana — for keeping the French language alive in the state.
After this meeting, the mayors plan to develop a North American Francophone network to link French-speaking regions from Quebec down to Lafayette and other cities in Louisiana.
“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.”
That is going to be ever more true in the world. Francophone cities are across the globe, including West Africa and Asia. It is a vital connection that should never be allowed to languish.