History of Louisiana State

Living in southwest Louisiana, everyone is affected by the culture which embodies the residents of the Pelican State. Those of us born and raised in the boot, take much of the culture for granted. Whether considering dining options, musical entertainment, or just striking up a conversation with a friendly stranger, some aspect of our southern culture comes into play. Considering the economic tourism value of our southern hospitality, Louisiana has gotten aggressively enthusiastic about sharing the culture with visitors and incorporating culture into the school setting.

Looking closely at the foundation of our Louisiana culture, leads to the consideration of the early settlers’ language and music which affects all aspects of our everyday lives.

According to Introduction to Sociology 2E, culture is defined as “shared beliefs, values, and practices” (Griffiths, 2017). The text clearly states that “society represents the people who share those beliefs and practices. Neither society nor culture could exist without the other” (Griffiths, 2017). Culture is developed by the history of a society’s past.

Originally established as French colony in 1699, Louisiana became part of America after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 (Ancelet, 1988). It was strengthened when the Acadians settled in the southern part of the state after they were deported by the English from Nova Scotia in the mid-eighteenth century. By the nineteenth century, a mix of these varied French cultures, developed by native American Indian tribes and immigrants from Germany, Spain, Italy, Ireland, England, and the colonies, produced the people called Cajuns whose French reflected the diversity of their origins (Ancelet, 1988).

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When early entities recognized French as an official language of the state, the constitution of 1921 established English as the sole language of instruction. Several generations of Cajuns and Creoles were eventually convinced that speaking French was a sign of cultural illegitimacy (Ancelet, 1988). The State of Louisiana officially sanctioned the movement in 1969 with the creation of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL). With former U.S. Congressman James Domengeaux as its chairman, CODOFIL was immediately faced with the monumental task of creating a quality French language education program from scratch in a state with a poor track record in education in general. Older Cajuns, who had written, “I will not speak French on the school grounds, had learned the lesson well and avoided inflicting on their own children what was long considered a “cultural and linguistic deficiency” (Ancelet, 1988).

This experience is relatable because it happened to my maternal grandparents who lived in Evangeline parish. When attending school in Basile, Louisiana during the late 40’s through early 60’s, the daily lessons included frowning upon speaking French. They have told me stories of how they were disciplined if they spoke French, while at home it was the dominant language. Both families were middle class, average citizens who conformed to the educational expectations without question.

Furthermore, few Cajuns learned to write French at that time, and none did when education in English became mandatory. Consequently, the overwhelming majority of Cajuns remained illiterate in the language (Ancelet, 1988). The mindset of the French language in education differed in other parts of the state. As Domengeaux noted, there was “more support for the teaching of French in north Louisiana than in Cajun country where the cultural and social stigma attached to the language had to be eliminated before any form of French would be welcomed in the elementary classroom” (Ancelet, 1988).

In the words of Domengeaux, “language and culture are inseparable” (Ancelet, 1988). In 1977, “Jean l’Ours et la Fille du Roi,” a play based on a Cajun folktale, was prepared and presented in Cajun French by an amateur theatrical troupe call “Nous Autres” to surprised audiences in small towns across Acadiana, which is southwest Louisiana. “Nous Autres” eventually was reformed as Le Theatre Cadien which followed with other plays, including “Martin Weber et les Marais-bouleurs,” in 1978, and “Milles Miseres,” in 1979. These plays made native use of the language for the theater to communicate to audiences who were unable to read French. In 1979 a retired school teacher from Mamou, Louisiana, published a book in Montreal, Canada about Cajun culture in Cajun French. Revon Reed’s book was intended mainly for the Quebec market. Lache pas la patate was the first work of Louisiana French literature since the turn of the century (Ancelet, 1988).

Unfortunately, the French lessons did not transfer to the home and created a negative impact. Older Cajuns who had written, “I will not speak French on the school grounds” as children had learned their lesson and were convinced that their language was not fit for the classroom. Children who learned French on the CODOFIL program in the early 1970’s unintentionally pushed the native vernacular farther into the corner when they tried their book-learned French on their parents and grandparents. The academic French that these children learned in the classroom sounded unfamiliar to older Cajuns who immediately thought that they could not understand because their own French was inadequate (Ancelet, 1988).

Even though my grandparents were fluent in Cajun French, my mother and her siblings were not formally taught the language. For many years, the children listened to a foreign language in their home, which was mainly spoken when adults did not want children to understand. It was common for families to move easily between French and English on a regular basis, however, children were not expected to learn it. Some families chose to teach the language, while other children viewed it as entertainment and a chance to speak curse words. Not all schools in Louisiana had CODOFIL, especially the more financially limited areas.

Currently, the younger generation can use technology to communicate with the older generation with a language that is not taught anymore. Luke Romero uses his iPhone if he wants to understand his Francophone grandparents. Born into a family based in Louisiana since the eighteenth century, the 33-year-old software developer is the creator of the LearnCajun app. This database of 90 words in Cajun French is accompanied by examples of pronunciation as spoken by his grandparents and friends (Thiery, 2018). This is an indication that efforts to embrace the Cajun French language by the younger generation is continuing in a technologically driven society. In this day and age, if someone chooses to learn French, there must be something worth doing, reading, seeing, and hearing in the language. On the other hand, the preservation of the language is vital to the survival of the culture (Ancelet, 1988).

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Cajun French Music Association, (CFMA), promoted spreading French language immersion programs in public schools. The CFMA also worked with the public school system to “assure authenticity of Cajun music taught in the schools” after it was decided to include Cajun cultural content in some classroom materials (Sexton, 2011).

If the Cajun French culture is to be preserved, then the music of this belief system must be sustained, also. During dire economic times in history, particularly during wartime, cultural issues took a back seat and received less priority. However, to preserve and promote Cajun culture, the Cajun French Music Association (CFMA), founded in 1984 in the southwestern Louisiana town of Basile, was partly a reaction to CODOFIL, which was viewed by some Cajuns as ineffective in promoting Cajun interests (Sexton). The CFMA’s purpose is to “promote and preserve, not only Cajun music, but also various aspects of the Acadian heritage” (Sexton, 2011).

The stories I have heard from my grandparents reflect this movement. Throughout their lives, they had listened and danced to Cajun French music, out of great love and appreciation for their heritage. Then, they found themselves in the midst of a movement to preserve traditions deemed so precious to them, and felt a sense of pride and appreciation for their own culture. Local favorites like Nathan Abshire and the Balfa Brothers were familiar to bars and dance halls. These names were now being mentioned in national news, and my grandparents were quite proud of their friends who were somewhat of celebrities celebrating a love of Cajun music around the world.

The violin was the dominant musical instrument among the Louisiana French until the early twentieth century (Sexton, 2011). The shift to accordion-led music through the popularity of pioneering commercial recordings of local accordionists in southwest Louisiana in the late 1920’s led to a narrowing of the traditional dance selection to focus on waltzes and two-steps (Sexton, 2011). Moreover, singing in French is considered a defining feature of Cajun music. Consequently, the CFMA became active in guiding the selection of Cajun bands to be included in the multi-cultural International Festival in Lafayette, Louisiana. The organization was determined to hold true to the authentic music of the local culture. Additionally, Le Cajun (aka, the “Cajun Grammys”), an annual music awards ceremony and festival held in Lafayette, Louisiana, is the centerpiece of Cajun cultural representation by the CFMA (Sexton, 2011).

Festivals are ideal venues for cultural representations. They often are presented as folk festivals across the state (Sexton, 2011). Later events such as the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, Boudin Festival, Festivals Acadians, Cajun Day and the Tee Mamou Iota-Mardi Gras Folklife Festival were specifically promoted as celebrations of Cajun culture (Sexton, 2011). Of course, there are fairs and festivals around our state of Louisiana that promote the same type of popular entertainment. “Selection of the authentic cultural elements to represent the festival settings and beyond is an inevitable part of preservation and promotional efforts” (Sexton, 2011).

But is it Cajun French if the music and language strays from the traditional? To be sure, Cajuns will eat gumbo and crawfish, with or without roux and Tony’s seasoning, but is “Jolie Blonde” sung in English still Cajun music? (Ancelet, 1988). Many of the older generation, like my grandparents, would definitely consider the music inferior or fake if not sung in Cajun French and the music led by an accordion. Many people like the CFMA continually work towards the authenticity of the music. The younger generations tend to accept music with different standards as being Cajun French. “Significant intracultural diversity exacerbates the selection process because of competing visions of acceptable cultural representations, a dilemma faced by the CFMA” (Sexton, 2011).

In conclusion, the study of culture can be complex and extremely intriguing, especially when viewing the beliefs of our own families’ practices. My Cajun French grandparents were born and raised in Evangeline and Acadia parish, rural areas of southwest Louisiana. Just a few miles south, my paternal grandparents of Cameron parish spoke very little Cajun French. This does not mean that the culture is so dissected that it has little worth. I believe it means that each geographical area has its intricacies to be celebrated and honored. It saddens me that I only recognize a few curse words of Cajun French, but I am proud that my grandparents have a living culture of language and music that I can share as my own.


  1. Ancelet, B. J. (1988). A Perspective on Teaching the ‘Problem Language’ in Louisiana. The French Review, 345-356.
  2. Griffiths, H. (2017). Introduction to Sociology 2e. Houston, TX: OpenStax.
  3. Sexton, R. L. (2011). Too Loud, Too Wild? Negotiating Cajun Cultural Representations. Ethnology, 117-134.
  4. Thiery, C. (2018, March 15). The Rebirth of Cajun French in Louisiana in Classrooms and Online. Retrieved from The Best of French Culture France Amerique: https://france-amerique.com

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History of Louisiana State. (2021, Dec 16). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/history-of-louisiana-state/

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