When we think of Cajun culture, what immediately comes to mind is the traditional music, food, dance, and generally simple lifestyle of our ancestors. We have kept this culture alive to this day, and we try to instill a sense of Cajun pride in our children in order for the Cajun legacy to live on. But while we celebrate our Cajun heritage, we seldom think of the turmoil our ancestors endured in order to make Cajun culture what it is today.
During the Seven Years’ War, thousands of Acadians were deported from their homes in various parts of present-day Canada. Most were shipped back to France, only to be sent to Louisiana later; others were sent to British colonies in North America, from New England to Georgia. Families were split up, their belongings confiscated, their homes burned.
Lafayette, also called “the Hub City” is known as the center of Acadiana, the region of Southern Louisiana where most Acadians settled. The city was first founded under the name Vermilionville in 1821. Here, Acadians adjusted to their new homes, and Cajun culture developed.
In the early 20th century, Cajuns became victims of oppression, and their culture was put in jeopardy. Cajun children were punished and often beaten in schoolhouses for speaking Cajun French instead of English, which most of them had never been exposed to before. Prejudice against the Cajuns was all to prevalent. “Cajun” became an insulting term.
It wasn’t until the late 60s that the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana was founded, preserving French language in Louisiana and protecting those who spoke it. Descendants of the rural Acadians became part of the working class, resulting in a higher socioeconomic status. The Cajuns finally embraced their heritage and were no longer insulted because of it.
While Cajun culture has been well preserved, our lifestyles have vastly changed since our ancestors first settled here. However, a piece of original Acadian culture still exists, under its original name: Vermilionville. Vermilionville is a popular Lafayette attraction dedicated to teaching children and young adults the plight of the Acadians and the birth of Cajun culture. The attraction features various art exhibits, as well as original homes and buildings from the time of the Acadians, restored to their original states.
Vermilionville is the perfect place to bring your child to show them where their roots originate. Both fun and educational, Vermilionville will surely be enjoyable to the whole family.
School will be starting up again soon, so set aside a day to visit this little piece of local history before summer ends. On Sunday, August 9, from 10 AM to 5 PM, Vermilionville will celebrate its annual Acadian Culture Day. The event is free to attend and will include several activities and exhibits, such as live music, boat tours and canoeing, a parade, film showings, visual art, kids crafts and games, and various demonstrations. Come out and have lots of fun while celebrating your Cajun heritage!