monthly report 2015


Zach chillin' - thinking about his monthly reports

October 29, 2015

The Legend of L’il Red is a fable in the Aesop’s tradition for children of all ages.  It is a story of friendship, persistence, tolerance and love.  The two principal characters, a blind turtle and a one-clawed baby crawfish, find each other in the middle of a hurricane.  The Legend of L’il Red is the story of their adventures as they set off in search of a new claw for the little crawfish, encountering a host of incredible creatures and confronting big challenges along the way.

I wrote this story for my daughter when she was 8 years old.  It slept in a drawer for twenty years, when, unbeknownst to her mother and I, Sarah did the illustrations. Enchanted by the beauty of her drawings we were determined and are now delighted to share this story of tenacity and compassion with the world. 

Available now with personalized autograph in Zack's Boutique




October 1, 2015

I cannot remember the first time that I came to consider myself “Acadien”.  But although the exact date is lost to me, I can say with certainty the event which provoked my epiphany: it was the moment that I understood the events of the Deportation of 1755.  As a child and later as a teenager, I had no notion of belonging to any particular ethnic group.  I knew I was Cajun (Anglicized spelling) or Cadien (as we prefer), but I was (and still am) American.  My life was school, my friends, my family.  I never asked myself any questions regarding my “Cadien-ness”.  Nobody did.  But when the realization of what had taken place in 1755 and the influence that the “Grand Dérangement” (the Big Nuisance as the Acadians refer to the Deportation with a great deal of irony) had on my family, I began to consider myself Acadian (Acadien).   Beginning in 1972 with the acquisition of my first “Cajun” accordion, I plunged into the French language musical universe of Louisiana.  I did not grow up listening to Cajun music and was only vaguely aware that it existed.  It was the sound track of the Sunday dinners at my grand-mother’s home, the French television program Passe Partout playing in the background.  But once I got my hands on the accordion, I was plunged headfirst into a cultural soup that changed the way that I looked at the world.  I wound up with the accordion almost by accident, motivated by an vague curiosity and a desire to go “back to the roots”.  The discovery of the rich musical tradition of French Louisiana, the song-poems of Ira Lejeune, the warm sweet sound of Ambrose Thibodeaux and the accordion acrobatics of Aldus Roger, pushed me toward a second any more profound discovery:  that I am part of a community which exists inside and outside of the society of which it is part.  There was also the understanding that the identity which had come upon me like wildfire was defined by the memory of a human tragedy.  But this second realization was a little longer in coming.

Enter Donald Doiron.  Donald is the first Acadian from the Canadian Maritimes that I met.  He had hitched down to Louisiana with the idea of teaching French.  God only knows what had given him the idea.  How did he know that Codofil (The Council for the Development of French in Louisiana) was seeking French teachers to fill the local vacuum?   It had been many years since the commemoration celebration of 1955 (200th anniversary of the Deportation) during which the Acadian elite of Louisiana had sent a delegation to the Canadian maritimes.  The memory of that celebration did not even exist for Donald or I.  We had been but 5 years old at the time.  No, what had inspired Donald to come to Louisiana was the same thing that had inspired the original Acadians who left Halifax in 1764.  It was a ray of hope, a glimmer of light, or a voice that one hears whispering in the deep woods.  He had left, as they had, with the confidence, deep in his heart, that he would find safe harbor, that at the end of the trail, he would be welcomed by friends.  And so Donald left New Brunswick with only the clothes on his back and came to Louisiana to teach French and to rearrange my world.  He was the first Acadian (Acadien du Nord--of the North) that I ever met.  The fact the he existed and that his community existed, hidden in the woods somewhere in Eastern Canada was like a cherry bomb which blew up in my heart.

The third member of my Holy Trinity of Acadian Revelation was history, or rather history books:  The Acadian Miracle by Dudley LeBlanc, and the History of the Acadians by Bona Arsenault, the first a romanticized version of Acadian history by the colorful Vermillion parish politician, and the second a more “serious” work of history by a passionate Acadian genealogist from Bonaventure Québec.   With these two books, I had everything I needed to start my crusade.  All this struck me like lightening, right between the eyes.   French language Louisiana music was the spark which set the house on fire.  The musical tradition South Louisiana dragged me by my long hair toward the realization that I was part of a long and long oppressed culture.  The story of the Deportation and of the shame which was heaped on the Cadien language and the Cadien people in Louisiana burned inside my young heart.  And the encounter with Donald Doiron was the proof that the Deportation had taken place and that we, the children of the exiles, were still here.  And finally the details of the actual history which I learned from these two books (Acadian history was not in the schools of Louisiana while I was a student and today, if it is taught at all,  is reduced to a caricature, the Cajuns portrayed more often than not as beer drinking buffoons) resonated so strongly in my heart, that I can still hear the call.

Voilà for the beginning of my Acadian identity.  Very early in the process, I came to the conclusion that one of the most important, if not the single most important element of this identity was the French language.  This second discovery was the beginning of my career as a French militant à la Québec of René Lévesque.  I do not believe that the Cadiens of Louisiana who have been assimilated into the anglo-American mainstream and have lost the ability to speak the traditional language, can have the same depth of feeling relative to their identity as Acadien-Cadiens as those Cadiens who still speak French.  There is a fundamental dimension to the experience that is missing unless understood in the language of our ancestors.  But that is another story.  What I am curious to understand is that “thing” which make us identify ourselves as Acadians, that thing, that feeling, that experience which are common to a lobster fisherman of Caraquet, New Brunswick and to a shrimp fisherman of Golden Meadow, Louisiana.  Acadia (L’Acadie) is a virtual reality.  It is not a country with boundaries, and a government and a passport.  It exists only in the minds and hearts of those who consider themselves to be Acadian.  And there are many who consider themselves to be, scattered all over North America.  What is it that we share, beyond a few family names and a love of celebration?

I am currently in the middle of filming a documentary which deals with the question of Acadian identity.  We have visited or will visit just about every community which declares itself somehow Acadian.   We will visit New Brunswick, obviously, but also the North Shore of the Saint Laurence, and the Magdeleine Islands (Les Iles de la Madeleine), both of which are in Québec, as well as New Foundland, Prince Edward Island (Ile Saint Jean), Nova Scotia (which in spite of being the original Acadian homeland, has only a small minority Acadian population, none of whom live on the sites of the original settlements), and Louisiana (where the descendants of the exiled Acadians intermarried with French, French creole, Spanish, German, Irish and English immigrants to form the Cajun people as we know them today.

One has to look hard to find a common link amongst all of these communities scattered throughout North America.  (We will also be filming in France where the vestiges of the passage of the Acadians is still in evidence in the province of Poitou, the city of Nantes and on the island of Belle Ile en Mer.)  Between a crab fisherman of Natashquan (North Shore Québec) and a shrimp fisherman of Bayou Lafourche, Louisiana, there is a world of difference.  Barriers of geography, politics, history, culture and even climate separate the various Acadian communities.  The “Cayens” of the North Shore of the Saint Laurence are among the most hard-core Québec separatists while still fiercely proud of their Acadien roots.  To the Acadians of New Brunswick, however, the separatists of Québec are, at least in a political sense, kin to the devil himself.  To the Cajuns of Louisiana, these questions are totally unknown.  So what is this “thing”, if indeed such a thing exists, which unites all of these different Acadian communities, that component of their shared identity which surpasses nostalgia and folk-lore.  The answer, I believe, begins with the Deportation.

Before I discovered the books of Dudley LeBlanc and Bona Arsenault, I knew nothing about the history of my ancestors.  According to historians, for at least one generation, or longer, the exiled Acadians who settled in Louisiana continued to recount the story of the Deportation.  At weddings and other gatherings, story tellers would keep the memory alive.  By the time I was born, however, this tradition had completely disappeared.  I seem to remember having heard of the “Grand Dérangement” (the Acadians describe the Deportation with considerable irony in a phrase which is best translated as “The Great Nuisance”), but the memory is not clear for me.  I wonder whether I didn’t just invent the whole thing in a sub-conscious effort to romanticize my heritage.  One thing is certain, if indeed my family (it would have been my grand parents) spoke of the “Great Nuisance” it was only very sporadically and with only the slightest comprehension of the actual history.  But between my discovery of Cajun music, my encounter with Donald Doiron, and the books of Bona Arsenault and Dudley LeBlanc, a powerful image of my Acadian identity took hold of me.  During my first visit to Acadie in 1975, I was touched so deeply that I have never really overcome the shock.

The first thing that strikes Acadians who visit another distant Acadian community is that all of the family names are the same.   It is always very surprising to find the same Arceneaux (Arsenault, Arsenau, Snault, etc.), Cormiers, Comeaux, and Boudreaux (Boudreau, Boudrots, Boudreaults,etc.).  Next, there is the physical resemblance.  Take an Acadian from anywhere and plop him down in another Acadian community anywhere else, and if he doesn’t open his mouth, nobody would ever guess that he is from out of town.  But it seems to me that looking alike and having the same family names is not sufficient reason to create a bond that is worth maintaining.

I will never forget my first Frolic Acadien in 1975.  On the Butte à Napoléon (Napolean’s hill) in Cap Pelé, New Brunswick, I met an elderly Acadian woman named Mrs. LeBlanc.  I was stupefied by the fact that she resembled my own grandmother (there are LeBlancs a-plenty in my family tree).  I was ever more touched by the fact that she talked like my grandmother.  There are real differences between the French of New Brunswick and the French of Louisiana, even though these two accents resemble one another more closely than any other two accents in all of the French-speaking world.  But what struck me was what Mrs. LeBlanc was actually saying.  She had heard that there were Acadians in Louisiana, and wanted to know if it were true.  She had a long list of questions which were very down to earth, the kinds of questions that my grandmother would have asked, such as how were the seasons and what did the farmers grow, and how did we live, etc.  When we parted, she promised to pray for me, just like my grandmother had done when I had last seen her.  This encounter touched my in the deepest corner of my heart and I cannot think of Mrs. LeBlanc to this day without getting emotional.  It is this emotion that is the source of Acadian solidarity, or rather this emotion is the manifestation of that “thing” that is the source of Acadian solidarity.

In all of our history there is something that remains unexpressed and unexpressible.  It is an emotion so powerful as to be overwhelming.  This is the emotion that overcame me as I was driving my car in 1973, forcing me to the side of the road to compose Réveille, sobbing with tears.  This is the emotion that overwhelmed me during my short visit with Mrs. LeBlanc in New Brunswick.  And this emotion is universal among all who consider themselves to be Acadian.  And this emotion is attached always to a souvenir of the Deportation.  I do not believe that Québécois are touched by so strong an emotion when they consider the conquest of 1759.  I do not think that Americans feel such a strong emotion when they (when we) consider the American revolution.  One can be very strongly attached to one’s country, but it is not the same as imagining the suffering of one’s ancestors during a brutal forced expulsion from their homes, what in modern parlance would be called ethnic cleansing.  The Acadians have no country to be attached to.  On the other hand, all Acadians have been moved to tears by the image of the Deportation.  In the scope of things, the Deportation of 1755 is perhaps not as significant as the recent genocide in Rwanda or not as horrible as the holocaust of the Jews, but how does one evaluate human suffering?  To consider oneself Acadian, I believe that a strong personal relation to the Deportation is fundamental. 

The second important element of Acadian identity is the French language.  There is, none the less, a “grey zone” of culture.  I am referring to Acadians and specifically Cadiens (Cajuns) who are assimilated anglophones and who are unable to speak the traditional language of the community.  I have often asked this question of Cadiens, “Does one have to speak French to be Cadien?”  The answer is always an unequivocal “Yes!”  When I ask the same Cadiens if that would exclude their own non -French speaking children, there is always an awkward moment, which is finally resolved when they exclaim, “No, they are Cadien too!”  This contradiction does not seem to bother anyone particularly.  It is certain, however, that the depth of Cadien or Acadian experience is tributary to the French language.  There is most definitely a spirit, a style, a world view, a character, something intangible but none the less real, which transcends the loss of the traditional French language, but it is also clear that something fundamental is lost with the loss of the language.  If we can be touched by the history of the Deportation while not understanding the traditional French language, I am convinced that the depth of the emotion is not as deep for non-French speakers.  For a non-French speaker, even should he consider himself “Cajun” or “Acadian”, that identity is diluted by his attachment to an over-riding anglophone (American or Canadian) culture.  (My cousin Donald Arceneaux will certainly take exception to this).  

There is also a question of territory which is part of the puzzle.  There are families in New Brunswick with names like Ferguson, McDonald, or even LeBouthillier who are not of the pre-dispersal Acadian lineage, but who consider themselves and are considered to be Acadian.  In Louisiana, typical Cajun names can be of Spanish, German, Irish and even of English origin.  Assimilation worked in favor of the Acadians in Louisiana until well into the 20th century and in the Canadian maritimes for a long period as well.  Let me make it clear that I am no proponent of any notion of “ethnic purity”.  Remember my definition of an Acadian is someone who considers himself to be, rather than someone who is part of any particular blood-line.  What interests me is to understand why is it that anyone would consider himself to be Acadian in the first place.  There are various reasons why someone would attach himself to this identity.   Those reasons are complex, but it seems to me that two elements are essential:  the French language and an emotional experience relative to the Deportation of 1755.




August 17, 2015

            It was first with disbelief and then with considerable dismay that I learned about the theater shootings in my hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana this past July 23.  A bitter and obviously deranged man opened fire at the screening of Trainwreck, a comedy featuring Amy Shumer, an outspoken and provocative female comedian.  Hardly a coincidence.   What is most disturbing to me is that this person, misogynistic and psychologically unstable, was legally able to purchase a firearm. 

            The United States of America is in love with guns and with gun violence.  The underlying causes are deep seated and go beyond the right to bear arms.  This is not about freedom and resistance to tyranny, the fundamental motivation of the 2nd amendment.  Nor is this about democracy.  This is about an infatuation with violence. 

            First, a few statistics.  Starting with how many guns do we possess.  The amount of firearms in the civilian population per 100 persons:

Japan .6 (point 6)

U.K. 6.2

Australia 15

Germany 30.3

Switzerland 45.7

U.S. 88.9

 

Out of every 100 people in the U.S. almost 90 of us have a gun.  The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but over 35% of all of the guns.

Since 1997, mass shootings world wide, defined by the killing of 4 or more persons:

Japan 0

Australia 0

U.K. 1

Germany 3

Switzerland 3

U.S. 51 events

The most disturbing statistic of all is the homicides per 10 million people:

Japan 1

U.K. 6

Germany 7

Australia 13

Switzerland 26

U.S. 401

Since 1997 approximately 540,000 firearms death have occurred in the United States, more American deaths than WW I & WW II combined.

            Why is it that we are so attracted to guns and to violence?  Is it because we are a frontier people and depended for so long on firearms for our survival? Australia is a frontier country too, but has nowhere near the homicide rate of the U.S.  Nor does our neighbor to the north, Canada.  There are complex and multiple reasons why the U.S. has more gun related violence than any other country in the world.  But I am not a sociologist and this is not a research paper.  It is a lament, an expression of grief provoked by a senseless killing in my hometown.   One thing is certain, the availability of firearms and the very powerful gun lobby in the U.S. make access to firearms easier to get than anywhere in the world.   And not only hunting rifles or handguns, but military assault rifles.  

            I spend a great deal of time in Canada, which seems like a very civilized place compared to the United States.  Which is not to say that terrible acts of random violence do not occur, witness the attack on Parliament Hill earlier this year and the killing of RCMP officers in Moncton by in disturbed young man in June, 2014.   But the availability of lethal weapons in Canada is very restricted compared to that in the United States.  Nowhere are we immune to the threat posed by mentally unstable persons or those who are motivated by radical terrorism.  But having easy access to guns is certainly part of the reason that the United States leads the world in per capita homicides.  The mantra of guns rights advocates is: “guns don’t kill people, people do”.  I would amend the phrase to one more accurate: “people WITH guns kill people”.  It is true that you can kill a person with a knife or a fingernail clipper or even a well placed flick of the finger, but easy access to guns increases the possibility of deadly violence and exponentially so.

            Our country and indeed the rest of the world are besieged by images of violence.  In movies and video games, violence is omnipresent.  It is ubiquitous in popular culture and this pervasive banalization of violence cannot but have a dangerous impact on the young people who are exposed to these images.  But television and video games alone cannot explain the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S.  The problem of homicide has existed since Cain and Abel, and we cannot imagine that it will be possible to rid human society of envy, lust, greed and murder.  But it is possible to restrict the access to lethal weapons severely and to do much more to keep firearms out of the hands of people like the man who opened fire in a crowded theater in my hometown.  Two beautiful young women were robbed of their lives and their families and my community plunged into confusion and grief.  Unfortunately this will happen again somewhere else, but it is likely to occur less frequently if we have the courage as a society to stand up to the gun lobby and the NRA and pass effective gun control.  Maybe then the senseless killing of Jillian Johnson and Mayci Breaux will have served a purpose. 

 

Post script: during the week that the terrible killings occurred at the movie theater, two young black men were shot and killed in Lafayette, victims of a more routine violence, but victims just the same.  




July 1, 2015

I was very saddened to see that the statue of PGT Beauregard at City Park in New Orleans was defaced.  Saddened not by the vandalism of a public monument, not by the fact that this act was perpetrated upon a memorial dedicated to one of Louisiana’s most notable historical figures, but saddened because this monument, which I have seen hundred’s of time with indifference, is now charged with a powerful and divisive racial overtone.   I do not deny and have come to appreciate the powerful significance with which Civil War era symbols are viewed in the Black community.  In the wake of the horrendous killing in Charleston, it is appropriate, I believe, to re-evaluate the nature of institutional iconography and I believe that it is also appropriate to remove from public exhibition symbols that are offensive to members of our society and / or promote racist philosophy.  In our efforts to redefine our public persona, however, I hope that we will be able to proceed with openness and respect. 

It is perhaps a good thing that someone attacked Beauregard’s statue with a can of black spray paint.  We can no longer pretend that there is not an insidious and ongoing problem of race in America, and this incident allows the possibility to learn of one another’s feelings and to close the racial divide that for so long has characterized life in the United States.

Which brings me to the object of this missive.  In my hometown of Lafayette in front of what was previously the mayor’s office on Jefferson Street stands the statue of Jean-Jacques Alfred Mouton.  Mouton was a civil war hero who died at the battle of Mansfield on April 8, 1864. Picked off by a Federal sniper as he paraded in front of his troops, his death provoked a furious charge by the 18th Louisiana (the Acadian brigade) which resulted in casualties of over one / third of the brigade.  Alfred was the son of Alexander Mouton, first generation Louisianian (his father Jean arrived in Louisiana as a child, exiled from Acadie), and ninth governor of Louisiana.  Alexander Mouton presided over the secession convention of January, 1861 which voted 113 to 17 to secede from the United States and which would plunge Louisiana into a bloody civil war the effects of which we are still suffering today.  And Alexander Mouton was the owner of 120 slaves.  Although the large majority of Acadians in ante-bellum Louisiana were not slaveholders, there existed a small minority of wealthy Acadian planters whose fortunes in sugar and cotton were built on the backs of African slaves. 

One of these slave owning Acadians was my great great great grandfather.  While not a major plantation master (he owned but 36 slaves) Olivier Abram Boudreaux (born1788 Cabanocé, died 1885 Lafayette) was a member of the slave holding elite.  His son Aurélien Drozin Boudreaux was a captain of a home guard unit of the Confederate Army.  Drozin was the secretary of the Committee of Vigilance of Lafayette before the war and the secretary of the White League after (maybe because his penmanship was so good, I have seen samples).   There is nothing I can do about my slave holding ancestry except try to understand.  It is difficult to imagine the lives of these people who were coincidentally my ancestors.  Olivier Boudreaux’s farm was planted primarily in sweet potatoes and his slaves were mostly women and children.  Of the 36 people that he owned, only three were adult males.  The rest were women and small children.  I learned this from the U.S. census report of 1860.  The ages and the sex of the slaves are listed, but chillingly, not their names. 

And so what about the statue of Alfred Mouton in downtown Lafayette?  Should it be removed?  The Mouton family is one of the areas most illustrious families, and their contributions to South Louisiana society are significant.  Should the sons and daughters be held responsible for the sins of their fathers?  Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were slave owners.  What do we do about them?

I can only hope that race relations in my country will improve and that we will be able to transcend the turmoil of Charleston, South Carolina and of Ferguson, Missouri and ultimately evolve past the bitter legacy of racial hatred which still afflicts this country 150 years since Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.   The national discourse is something over which I have very little or no influence, but I do believe that I can make a difference in my community and so I am calling on the government of Lafayette Louisiana, not to take down the statue of Alfred Mouton but to erect another one to celebrate the contribution that citizens of African heritage have made to the society of South Louisiana. 

I propose that a statue of Clifton Chenier, a black man, be commissioned and erected in a prominent location in downtown Lafayette to honor his contribution to our society.  No one has had a greater impact in bringing our musical and cultural heritage to the world and no one is more deserving of the recognition.  

Our French language culture is unique in America and I am passionately devoted to its promotion.   Being francophone is not simply a matter of speaking French, but is also a way of seeing the world, a vision based on inclusion and on tolerance.  The French teachers who are in the front lines of the preservation of our culture come to us from all over the world: from Québec, from Acadie, from Belgium and France but also from Haiti and from Africa.  The founder of la Francophonie as we know it today, was Léopold Sédar Senghor, poet and first president of Senegal.  His vision of La Francophonie was that of “a wave of humanism spreading around the world.”

A statue to the memory of Clifton Chenier would honor the considerable contribution that the people of African heritage have made to our society and express the values of inclusion and tolerance that are at the heart of Louisiana French culture.  Let us set an example for the rest of the country and for the world of humanism and inclusion.   Let us celebrate our differences with respect.  

 




June 11, 2015

It is always weird for me to translate from a French blog of mine when it concerns the linguistic politics of Québec.  There is not only something lost in translation, but a fundamental lack of comprehension due to the difficulty (if not impossibility) for an English speaker to understand the powerful feelings provoked by the question of cultural identity in Québec.  In order to put it into perspective, imagine that it concerns not a question of language, but one of race.  This is probably an over simplification, but it is important to understand that linguistic identity in Québec is a very sensitive issue and is associated with a history of prejudice and oppression.  Anyway here goes.

This morning around 11AM, while taking a ride on my bike, I was surprised on the Côte Sainte Catherine to come upon a very considerable police presence.  There were hundreds of policemen, including a small contingent of riot policemen, all wearing black, huddled furtively in a side street.  It took me a few minutes to understand that all of this was for the funeral of ex Québec prime minister Jacques Parizeau.

The funeral was held in the church of Saint Germain for this controversial politician who is best known for having lost the referendum of 1995.  Québec will always remember his diatribe of October 30, 1995 when an angry Parizeau railed against “money and the ethnic vote” (i.e. non-French Canadians).  He was right, the referendum was decided by less than one percent and the vote had certainly been influenced if not stolen by the considerable amounts of cash that the government of Canada and the English community of Montreal had thrown into the campaign.  Since that night, the sovereignty movement of Québec has never regained its momentum.

After Parizeau, the Parti Québécois has floundered.  Prime ministers Lucien Bouchard and Bernard Landry were able to keep the ship afloat, but for the past ten years, the political party which was created with the mandate to separate from Canada, has been seeking to recreate itself with very little success.  The new party leader is Pierre Karl Péladeau, a very influential businessman and heir to a considerable family fortune.  This is a strange choice for a party leader since Péladeau is a controversial figure whose considerable success has been built on a merciless corporate strategy and a union-busting policy that has alienated many Québekers.  The thinking apparently is that since PKP is so successful, he can make the Parti Québécois successful as well.  We will see.  So far, Péladeau has avoided the sovereignty question like a smelly fart, which is not so surprising in today’s Québec.

In the forty years that I have navigated the cultural waters of Québec, never have I seen such little interest generated by the question of political sovereignty.  The new generation of Québec voters doesn’t seem concerned in the least.  Politics in Québec are dominated by economic and social concerns while the question of separation from Canada has fallen off the radar screen.  We are a long way from the 1970s and the agitation both for and against “la souvereineté” and farther still from the intoxication of November 15, 1976 when the Parti Québécois rose to power. 

I have the feeling that the dream of an independent Québec will be buried with Parizeau.  There is always room for surprise as my friend Antonine Maillet says, but in today’s Québec, where life is pretty good considering the instability and violence that is prevalent in much of the world, and in spite of the regional decline and the Anglicization of Montreal, Québécois identity is not married to the question of political independence. 

On the grounds of the Parliament of Québec there is a statue of René Lévesque.  It is on the north side facing the Laurentians.  On the other side of the Parliament is a statue of Maurice Duplessis, which faces south toward the Plains of Abraham.  The careers and the ideologies of these two men could not be farther apart and it does not surprise me that the statues are as far apart as possible, probably to keep them from attacking one another.   Duplessis was an arch-conservative whose period in power is referred to as “la grande noirceur” (the big darkness) while René Lévesque is certainly the most charismatic and best loved politician of modern Québec and the champion of independence.

There is also a statue of Robert Bourassa whose career was more complex.  It was he who asked Pierre Trudeau, then Prime-minister of Canada, to invoke the war powers act and send troops into the streets of Montreal during the October crisis of 1970.  After the defeat of the Lake Meech Accords (which would have given Québec a special status within the Canadian confederation), it was Bourassa who declared “English Canada must clearly understand that, no matter what is said or done, Quebec is, today and forever, a distinct society, that is free and able to assume the control of its destiny and development.”  Maybe some day there will be a statue to Parizeau with the inscription:  He tried.

Jacques Parizeau was a brilliant man.  Unfortunately he will always be associated with an angry five minutes on the night of October 30, 1995.  He can be criticized for losing his temper and for letting his emotions get the best of him, but he can never be criticized for not having tried to realize the dream of an independent French language state in North America.  And for that I salute him. 




April 28, 2015

I am pleased to announce the release of my fourth volume of poetry, Outre le Mont (Over the Hill).  To hear my reading of several of the poems with musical accompaniment click here

Although the volume is French language, i am happy to offer some pieces in the language of Shakespeare.

 

Kung Fu

Black cat crossing

            Path somewhere between

                        Abbeville and the

Danger zone pulling

            Out to pass and

                        Running head on

Into destiny of

Broken limb and head

Broken glass and dead

Cat lying on the grass

Near the side of the road.

 

State troopers report

Black cat killed while

Driving black Cadillac

110 in the passing lane,

Running head on into

Smell of burnt rubber

And burning flesh

Head on into hearing it

On the radio with bad

Reception and the

Volume way

Down low.

Falling

Into

Wanting

To run all

Wanting vision

Clouded to clear

Wanting to rise up

From hot pavement

To sleep under shady oak.

 

Man Woman love

            Held closely in

                        night middle

            Arrow root sweet

Slip and slide.

 

Between lips river

            Flood love water

                        fast forward no

            Stopping now,

Careening out of control. 

 

Road block.

Burning car.

Hot wires

On the road. 

 

 

 

14 January

 

Two tug boats

            with two barges

                        each crossing

Midriver three gulls

            taking flight from

                        churning wake

Each bow breaking

            waves of the other

                        one upriver one

Downriver to the gulf and

            across to Mexico

                        hotter than here.

 

Other shore bridge

            golden wave reflection

                        of setting sun

Facing west in

            January chill grey

                        horizon in fog

Sound of railway

            train across river

                        tracks across

River and behind

            train whistle

                        of iron road

To American heart

            by steel veins

                        and arteries of

Moving grey water

            river stage high for

                        winter season water

Covers old rusted boiler

            where I used to

sit writing poems

For the sea gulls

and the setting sun.

 

Railway track American

            land blood held in

                        riverbank source of

Eastern energy

            continental flowing

                        to estuary below

New Orleans the

            weather chilly the

                        river high

Facing west glow

            red orange in

                        smokey haze.

 

 

 

Blue Naked

Awoken in the middle  

            Of the seventh night,

                        Needle piercing

My left eye,

            Rimmed in red cage,

                        The dreams of

Marie Laveau,

            woman in naked blue.

 

Rising at 5 AM,

            Grey dawn, calling

                        The secret words

Falling into coma

            Near hold to woman tied.

 

 

 

 

 

Hot with Mosquito

 

 

Seeking through

thick layers of

sticky Louisiana night,

close after full moon

with pack of stray dogs

headed East

sniffing.

 

Two vanloads of Mexicanos

stopped in the  parking lot

of a gas station shadowed down,

humming like big cicadas,

droned in velvet tone,

flashing gold teeth

and the whites of

tropical eye. 

 

Down the street,

rowdy small town boys

raucous with pick-up truck

and too much beer,

laughter like bubbles

too heavy to float.

 

Dark trees back away

from the road with

who knows what beyond.

 

It’s hot with mosquito

and no wind.  




March 1, 2015

À l'honneur de la journée de la Francophononie, le 20 mars.  

Les plus belles choses arrivent souvent par surprise.  L’album de chansons co-écrites et interprétées par les étudiants en immersion française (J’ai une chanson dans mon coeur) est une de ces choses dont je me réjouis surtout parce que l’expérience est arrivé à l’improviste. Tout a commencé avec le Centre de la Francophonie des Amériques, organisme avec lequel je collabore depuis sa fondation pour faire fleurir la langue française en Amérique.

Le Centre avait un projet d’écriture de chansons où on envoyait Bertrand Gosselin (le Bertrand deJim et Bertrand) dans les écoles de l’ouest canadien pour composer des chansons avec les étudiants.  Me disant que c’était une superbe idée, j’ai tenté l’expérience moi-même dans une école de Lafayette, Myrtle Place.  La première expérience a été suffisamment satisfaisante pour que je continue avec l’école de Cécilia où j’ai composé Vive les Vacances avec les enfants.   Très enthousiaste du projet naissant, j’ai été cependant bousculé dans ma vie d’errance et j’ai cherché un partenaire auquel je pouvais passer le flambeau.  Une amie songwriter francophone est venu à mon secours, et c’est elle, Anna Laura Edmiston, qui a composée la plupart des chansons, ce qui a pris plusieurs années.  Finalement, avec une dizaine de chansons dans le sac, on s’est dit qu’on avait suffisamment de matière pour faire un album.

Alors a commencé le travail de production.  Aidé par la crème de la communauté musicale louisianaise,  j’ai commencé un travail aussi amusant qu’inspirant.  Steve Riley, Roddie Romero, Graham Robinson, David Egan, Kevin Wimmer, Mike Napolitano, Aaron Thomas, David Rachou ont tous apporté leur talent et leurs cœurs à ce projet qui a été, pour nous tous, une question d’amour.  Avec à la tête, le réalisateur C.C. Adcock, nous avons réussi à faire, avec peu de moyens, un travail aussi exceptionnel que touchant. 

Ensuite les enfants sont venus chanter.  Rappelons que ce sont des jeunes de 10 à 12 ans, sans aucune expérience professionnelle.  Vous pouvez constater le résultat pour vous même, et imaginer l’enthousiasme que ces enfants ont apporté au projet.  De voir l’étincelle dans leurs yeux à chaque fois qu’ils rentraient en studio était pour moi le meilleure des récompenses imaginables.

Cet album est la preuve de la vitalité de la communauté francophone de Louisiane, mais aussi un témoignage éloquent de l’importance de la musique pour notre petit îlot francophone.  La musique a été et reste pour nous la gloire de notre culture.  Les jeunes francophones de chez nous passe souvent par la musique avant d’arriver à la langue, ce qui était l’expérience, cher lecteur, de l’auteur de ce papier.  La journée de la francophonie en Louisiane est d’abord une célébration de notre culture musicale.  La musique est le pavillon qui flotte au dessus de notre bastion.  Elle est la plus efficace des outils dans notre boite.  Chez nous on défend et promotionne le français à coup de chanson. 

Et maintenant un petit aperçu de notre communauté :

La communauté francophone en Louisiane a de multiples visages.  Il y a d’abord ceux et celles dont le français est leur langue maternelle.  Ce sont des gens assez âgés, et leur nombre continue à décroitre de façon fulgurante. Mes grands parents ont été de la dernière génération monolingue francophone.  Bien que la langue maternelle de mes parents est le français, ils parlent l’anglais couramment.  Leur relation avec la langue française est complexe et elle est façonnée par une expérience d’assimilation difficile. 

Après la génération dont le français est la langue maternelle, il y a une deuxième génération de francophones qui est la mienne.  Nous, les francophones de Louisiane « post modernes », avons tous une relation professionnelle avec la francophonie soit dans le domaine d’éducation, soit le domaine culturel comme moi.  Depuis 1968, une communauté importante de francophones de partout, du Québec, de l’Acadie, de la France, de la Belgique, de l’Afrique et d’ailleurs s’est installée en Louisiane grâce aux programmes du Codofil (Conseil pour le développement du français en Louisiane).  Ce sont principalement des enseignants.  Leur relation avec la communauté francophone native est très proche et leur effet sur l’évolution du français en Louisiane est déterminant.  Ce sont les enseignants internationaux qui ont le plus d’influence sur le dernier élément de notre communauté francophone : les étudiants en immersion. 

Aujourd’hui il a environ 4500 élèves dans les programmes d’immersion francaise qui sont établis dans plusieurs écoles publiques surtout dans le sud de l’état.  Ces élèves représentent l’élément le plus important de la francophonie louisianaise, car ils symbolisent l’avenir de la langue.  Leur français est « internationalisé » par la force des choses.  On peut se lamenter du fait que leur parler a perdu quelques éléments du parler natif (accent, style de syntaxe et vocabulaire), mais je crois que ce point de vue est fondamentalement rétrograde.  Le français en Louisiane doit évoluer s’il veut continuer d’exister, et le français que parlent les élèves en immersion est inévitablement influencé par la nature internationale de l’enseignement.  Ce n’est pas pour moi une question de bonne ou de mauvaise chose, mais tout simplement l’évolution du français en Louisiane.  La communauté francophone en Louisiane est riche et complexe avec de divers éléments qui comprennent des francophones natives, des francophones d’ailleurs, et des jeunes francophones, élèves en immersion, qui sont en train de remodeler le français louisianais selon leur expérience. 

À partir de 1916, le français cadien a subi une assimilation sévère, mais les jours où on était humilié pour parler le français à l’école sont terminés depuis longtemps.  C’était l’expérience de la génération de mes parents.  La loi de 1916 a obligé tous les parents en Louisiane d’envoyer leurs enfants à l’école en créant un système d’éducation publique.  Les écoles ont été des institutions anglophones et une force d’assimilation considérable.  Bien que la génération de mes parents ait subi une assimilation assez brutale aux mains des enseignants de l’époque (pour la plupart des Cadiens ide familles francophones mais qui avaient eu accès à l’éducation, c’est à dire l’éducation en langue anglaise), ils ont gardé le français comme langue de choix entre eux.  La société cadienne du 20e siècle était caractérisée par plusieurs zones où le choix de la langue parlée était déterminé par un consensus naturel.  Par exemple dans ma famille, le français était la langue parlée quand un vieux était présent, c’est à dire un parent ou grand parent monolingue francophone.  Dans certaines autres situations, et surtout devant les institutions politiques, à l’école, à la banque ou dans les entreprises, l’anglais était et reste la langue dominante.

Partout en Louisiane, l’hégémonie de la langue anglaise est chose accompli et accepté.  Le nombre de francophones de ma génération représente une infime minorité.  Par contre, il n’y a plus la notion d’infériorité qui caractérisait la communauté francophone de la génération de mes parents.  Bien que le français n’est parlé que par un petit nombre de gens, il est considéré comme un atout prestigieux.  Très souvent j’entends des gens se lamenter du fait que leurs parents ne leur parlaient pas en français et donc qu’ils ne l’ont jamais appris.  La situation n’est pas sans une certaine ironie. La deuxième guerre mondiale a été l’événement marquant.  L’armée américaine était une force irrésistible d’assimilation.  La majorité de la population louisianaise mâle âgée de 18 et 35 ans s’est enrôlée.  Beaucoup de jeunes soldats cadiens ont appris l’anglais à l’armée.  À leur retour, influencés par cette expérience et face à la dévalorisation générale du français, ils ont élevé leurs enfants en anglais. 

Aujourd’hui le fait francophone est valorisé en Louisiane comme moteur économique.  Ceci est associé principalement au tourisme, mais  il y a une appréciation de la valeur du français qui dépasse maintenant le tourisme culturel.  Je suis très d’accord avec Madame la Secrétaire Générale de la Francophonie, Michaëlle Jean, quand elle dit qu’on doit doter la francophonie d’outils économiques pour qu’elle s’épanouisse.  Pour que la francophonie puisse se maintenir en Louisiane, il faut qu’il soit aperçu d’une façon positive dans le sens économique.  Le français ne doit plus être confiné au ghetto des vestiges culturels, mais doit faire partie de la vie actuelle de la communauté à part entière. 

Il ne faut pas concevoir le français seulement comme une ressource touristique, mais comme un avantage économique dans tous les sens, non pas comme une question culturelle, mais comme une question politique.  Il y a une nouvelle génération de jeunes francophones, comme les députés Stephen Ortego, Jack Montoucet et le sénateur Eric Lafleur, qui comprennent bien le problème et qui luttent pour trouver de véritables solutions.  Comme disait Mme. Jean par rapport à la grande francophonie, il faut donner la francophonie louisianaise le moyen d’assurer son avenir économique. 

À sa création en 1968, le Codofil disposait un budget d’un million de dollars.  On a vu ce budget diminuait jusqu’à  $150,000 en 2010 donc à 85% de moins qu’à sa création. Dans les dernières années,  il y a eu un renversement de situation.  Le budget du Codofil était de 500 mille dollars en 2014 et sera augmenté à 600 mille en 2015.  Ce qui indique un changement important de la perception du français en Louisiane et de sa valeur.  Je crois que nous avons touché le creux de la vague et qu’on est sur la montée.  Il existe une confluence d’éléments sociaux et politiques qui est très prometteuse. 

Un aspect important voire primordiale de la réussite du français en Louisiane est le rapport que nous avons avec la communauté francophone internationale.  Tous les militants de ma génération ont eu une relation très signifiant avec le Québec.  Je n’exagère pas quand je dis que sans le Québec et son exemple, il n’aurait pas eu la renaissance française qu’on connaît actuellement en Louisiane.  Non simplement le Québec nous a inspiré avec la notion d’une nation francophone en Amérique du Nord, mais le Québec a soutenu beaucoup d’artistes et créateurs louisianais dont je suis peut-être le plus connu, mais loin d’être le seul.  En nous donnant un forum dans lequel nous avons pu exprimer notre réalité francophone, le Québec a servi de tremplin, je dirais de parrain, pour la francophonie louisianaise. 

Il n’est pas nécessaire de souligner l’importance de notre relation avec l’Acadie, mais il faut comprendre que c’est un phénomène récent.  Mes grands-parents savaient qu’on était des descendants d’exilés acadiens, mais aucun d’entre eux n’auraient pu trouver l’Acadie sur une carte.  À partir de 1955 avec le bicentenaire de la Déportation et surtout depuis 1994 et le premier Congrès Mondial Acadien, les liens entre l’Acadie du nord et l’Acadie tropicale se sont renforcés.

La France a été et reste le plus grand soutien de la francophonie en Louisiane en terme d’investissement.  Depuis 1968, la France a contribué des sommes considérables à l’enseignement du français en Louisiane.  Son rôle est peut-être moins visible à cause de nos relations étroites avec les communautés francophones d’Amérique, mais il est tout aussi important si on considère le nombre de Français qui enseigne en Louisiane et les moyens que la France consacre à nous.  Je serais négligent si je ne tirais pas une révérence également vers la Belgique qui a été un partenaire important. 

Nos enseignants nous arrivent de partout à travers la Francophonie, de l’Afrique, de l’Haïti, de la Martinique aussi bien que la France et le Québec.  Ce qui donne un visage très multicolore à notre francophonie.  Et ce qui fait de la Louisiane un projet dans laquelle la francophonie entière participe.  Pour que le français perdure et se propage en Louisiane, il faut que deux conditions soient réunies : Que les Louisianais soient conscients qu’ils appartiennent à une communauté internationale unie par la langue française, et que la Francophonie n’oublie pas la Louisiane.  Je n’ai jamais eu, depuis les 40 ans que je travaille dans le vignoble, autant d’espoir que ces deux conditions seront réalisées et que la Louisiane fera toujours partie de ce que Léopold Senghor appelait « cet humanisme qui se tisse autour de la terre. »




February 5, 2015

Beginning in 2008, thanks to a grant from the Centre de la Francophonie des Amériques, Anna Laura Edmiston and I visited several French Immersion classes to write songs with the students.  J'ai une chanson dans mon coeur (I have a song in my heart) is the result.

This is a project rich and varied just like the French Immersion experience itself.  The songs speak of identity and look at life from the point of view of young students.  They are proof of the vitality of the French language in Louisiana and of the promise it holds for the future.  For me personally, it was a great pleasure to collaborate with the students and to feel their passion for the French language , to see the spark in their eyes and to hear the songs in their hearts.

Proceeds from the sale of the CD will benefit French Immersion education in Louisiana.

Official site

iTunes




January 8, 2015

Est-ce qu’il s’agit vraiment d’une bataille entre le bien et le mal?  Et si oui, qui peut prétendre déterminer ce qui est mal et ce qui est bien?  Ce matin à Paris, trois barbares sont entrés dans les bureaux de l’hebdomadaire Charlie Hebdo et ils ont assassiné douze personnes: l’éditeur, Stéphane Charbonnier ainsi que les caricaturistes Jean Cabut, Georges Wolinski et Bernard Verlhac.  Aujourd’hui la lumière de la démocratie a été ternie.  Aujourd’hui j’ai perdu quelques illusions et je suis atteint dans mon profond intérieur.

Je ne suis pas un lecteur de Charlie Hebdo.  Cependant, depuis mon premier séjour en France au milieu des années 1970, je suis au courant de son existence et du rôle acerbe, mordant et sarcastique que ce journal joue au cœur de la culture française.  Dans cette société où le verbe et la parole occupent une place de premier ordre, ce journal tient une place unique.  Comme un crieur public du moyen âge se promenant en se moquant des hypocrites, des menteurs et des adultères, ce journal n’épargne rien ni personne.  À l’intérieur de la culture française moqueuse et arrogante, Charlie Hebdo est la grande voix de l’insolence et de la dérision, un gigantesque bras d’honneur à l’ordre social.  Charlie Hebdo se moque de tout et du reste.  Rien n’est hors de la mire de sa plume caustique y compris les jihadistes et leur Allah tout puissant.  Par conséquent, trois jeunes tueurs fanatiques ont planifié et ont  commis un acte de barbarie inspiré par une vision haineuse et une intolérance brutale qui est même à l’opposé de la liberté d’expression que Charlie Hebdo symbolise.  Ils ont atteint non simplement des journalistes, mais aussi une notion de la démocratie. Ce n’est pas une attaque contre quelques personnes, mais une attaque sur l’idéologie sur laquelle mon idée de la société se construit. 

Les tueurs seront attrapés et rendus à la justice et que leur dieu ait merci sur leurs âmes.  Mais le désarroi que je ressens sens est provoqué par une incompréhension de cet acte qui tourne mon concept de société sur sa tête.  Comment peut-on concevoir une attaque contre les journalistes? Cet acte est la preuve de la puissance de la parole et de la pensée.  Les assassins n’auraient jamais commis un crime aussi hideux sans se sentir atteints par les idées et les paroles de Charlie Hebdo. 

Je me demande jusqu’où monte le fil.  Les jeunes tueurs ont trouvé leurs armes par quel intermédiaire?  En France, il est très difficile d’obtenir le type d’armes d'armes utilisées sinon par le réseau du crime organisé.  Mais ces tueurs ne sont pas des bandits mais des fanatiques, alors par quel moyen ont-ils obtenu leurs armes?  Fournies par qui?   On finira par trouver le réseau, mais au bout du fil n’est pas une secte, ni une personne, mais une idée, et cette idée est à l’encontre de la société démocratique.  Est-ce qu’on est rendu au point où de s’entretuer  à cause de sa religion?  A cause de ses croyances?  À cause de la couleur de sa peau, pourquoi pas?  Il m’a toujours semblé qu’il y a des gens bien et des malfaiteurs.  Les criminels sont des gens qui ne respectent rien ni personne et qui sont prêts à n’importe quoi.  Où bien ils sont des malades mentales dont le comportement révèle un fond de déséquilibre.  Mais je n’arrive pas à comprendre cet attentat.  Ces tueurs ne sont pas des criminels mais des fanatiques et leur motivation me laisse viscéralement confus.  Est-ce qu’on est de retour au Moyen-Âge?  Est-ce qu’on se lance dans une guerre sainte.  Je suis Bouddhiste, anciennement Chrétien, tendance Agnostique et rien dans ma pensée éthique ne me prépare à confronter un geste aussi barbare. 

Le 11 septembre2001 restera brulée dans mon souvenir, mais j’arrive à me l’expliquer.  Osama bin Laden, fanatique religieux et homme puissant s’en est pris à la culture occidentale et a conçu et mis en œuvre une attaque contre l’ennemi de son fanatisme,  les États-Unis.  Dans un complot raffiné et fort de symbolisme, Al Qaeda a attaqué le World Trade Center, l’épicentre du monde capitaliste.  On descend les deux immeubles les plus grands dans le quartier du cœur du capitalisme.  Mais l’attaque à Paris ce matin n’a pas visé des immeubles, mais un journal, et cette notion me laisse perplexe et profondément attristé.  Est-ce que nous sommes parvenus à la guerre sainte?  Ce jihad, je ne le comprends pas.  Comment peut-on utilisé la religion pour mettre en branle une idéologie aussi haineuse?  Comment peut-on tuer au nom de Dieu?

Ce jour restera gravé dans ma mémoire et comme le 11 septembre 2011, et il marquera un tournant dans l’histoire humaine sur cette terre.  Ils disent qu’on peut tueur des hommes mais non pas des idées.  J’aimerais que ça soit vrai, mais uniquement s’il s’agit d’idées de tolérance et d’ouverture.  Autrement je ne comprend rien.

Le peuple français, atteint dans son coeur, défie les forces du noir et proclame son attachement à la lumière.  Inspiré par ceci, nous n'avons pas de choix, mais devons lutter avec toutes nos forces pour une société ouverte et par ceci honnorer la mémoire de Stéphane Charbonnier, ses collégues et les idéaux qu'ils symbolisaient.