“We Acadians must never forget our history. Keeping the Acadian story alive is the key to helping our children remember.”
– Brenda Comeaux Trahan
Brenda Comeaux Trahan of Lafayette, Louisiana, is proud to be a Cajun. She embraces her Acadian heritage and encourages others to do so. Her mission of helping Cajuns connect with their past takes her halfway around the world.
In the mid-1600s, French colonists settled in eastern Canada in what came to be known as Acadia. After the British conquest of Acadia in 1710, thousands were forced from the land. Many then settled in southern Louisiana.
Over decades, the displaced Acadians developed a unique Cajun culture.
From June 3 to 16, Trahan will lead a group of Cajuns on a heritage pilgrimage to France to explore towns from which founding Acadian families originated.
“In these cities, participants will see their Acadian ancestors’ homes and churches. … They will walk in the footsteps of their ancestors,” says Trahan. “Bonding, sharing the Acadian’s history and finding the same ancestry within the group is an emotional part of the tour.”
IN Magazine recently spoke to Trahan about Louisiana’s Acadian history and why it means so much to her.
IN: Tell us about your ancestry?
My Acadian names are Comeaux (father) and Boudreaux (mother). My ancestors came from France in the 1630s to colonize the French territory in North America that is now Nova Scotia.
As a child, I often wondered why we were called Cajuns. Why we spoke French and not all people in our community did.
As an adult, I took a private pilgrimage to France to discover where my Comeaux family name originated. I walked in the footprints of my forefathers at a Comeau(x) Chateau near Dijon.
It was an incredible experience. I am now compelled to help other Cajuns find their roots.
IN: How will the trip help Cajuns understand their ancestry?
Participants will see the land of the first French ancestors. They will look at primary genealogy records and some will fill in the blanks of their French ancestry, which can be the fulfillment of a dream.
They will meet and share meals with French citizens, some who are Acadian descendants and others who are passionate about Acadian history.
I get much satisfaction taking Cajuns on this heritage tour and knowing that the experience will inspire them to share their discovery with their children, grandchildren and friends.
IN: Do you worry that Cajuns are losing touch with their heritage?
I do believe that not very long ago the culture and history was in danger of being lost. At one time very little Acadian history was being taught in schools.
In 1996, the city of St. Martinville decided to create a memorial and museum honoring Cajuns. The purpose was not just to teach tourists about Cajun history but to also teach the local Acadian/Cajun descendants their own history.
In 2011, Louisiane-Acadie, a nonprofit foundation, was created to educate people about Acadian/Cajun history, culture and heritage. The Great Acadian Awakening event began mobilizing thousands of Acadians/Cajuns to share their traditions, music and cuisine.
IN: Tell us about Acadian culture in your city of Lafayette.
Lafayette is the hub of 22 south Louisiana parishes collectively called Acadiana. It is the region where many Acadians settled from 1764 to the 1780s.
Today, Lafayette is a university city with a rich multi-cultural community. Downtown is the civic, cultural and economic center where the past, present and future of Acadians is celebrated.
With a renaissance of pride in the blended culture of Cajun and Creole, you can see Acadian joie de vivre (joy of living) reflected each day.
IN: What does being a Cajun mean to you?
It means the world to me to be an Acadian descendant. Acadian people were powerful, soulful, faithful, hard-working survivors and incredibly resilient and kind, loving people. They handed down these traits.
We Acadians must never forget our history.
Keeping the Acadian story alive is the key to helping our children remember.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about Trahan’s Acadian heritage pilgrimages to France, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Trahan’s responses were edited for clarity and space.