Reflections on My Trip to Lafayette, Louisiana

I recently traveled to Lafayette, Louisiana for a family gathering. Located in southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette is home to Acadiana, the French-speaking part of the state. Current residents descend from either the Cajun or Louisiana Creole populations. My paternal ancestors were from this region and the family trip was planned to celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of my youngest aunt.

Prior to my Louisiana trip, I came across an interesting, yet disturbing statistic about Lafayette.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from 2011 through 2015, Lafayette was ranked as one of the ten largest metropolitan areas where interracial marriages were least common. While it was no surprise to me that the majority of cities with few interracial couples are located in the southern part of the United States, still, I had thought that Louisiana with its history of placage, and large Creole and Cajun populations might have resulted in greater numbers of black-white relationships in present times.

As it turns out, I was in for a surprise.

Upon arrival at the Lafayette restaurant where family members gathered, I observed two interracial couples with children seated at nearby tables.

The following morning, when I attended a zydeco breakfast at a Breaux Bridge restaurant, the dance floor was filled with many interracial couples seemingly having a great time dancing to the music while enjoying a Cajun meal. There wasn’t a hint of any racial tension in the air either; in fact, quite the opposite. People from all ethnic backgrounds were laughing and talking with each other, enjoying an easy comradery. I learned from one of my cousins that this scene is replicated every weekend at this popular restaurant. I can’t imagine any restaurant in Chicago where I would see a similar sight.

Later that afternoon, I attended a family Mass at St. Ann’s Church in Youngsville, Louisiana, another small rural town. My paternal ancestors were baptized in this church and several are buried in the church cemetery. While the majority of parishioners were white, they were very welcoming and interested in learning of my family’s connections to the church. Surprising also was that the church was filled to capacity for the Saturday afternoon service. With church attendance on the decline across religious denominations, it was interesting to observe that Catholics in this part of the country still adhere to traditional practices.

Returning to the Chicago area after my Louisiana trip, I reflected on the differences between what I had read and what I had seen firsthand. If black-white interracial marriages are not common in Lafayette, for certain interracial intermingling and relationships are, and in ways which occur with greater ease than in the North. My visit reaffirmed my long-held belief that in towns across Louisiana there are whites who defy old racial stereotypes and live in peace and harmony with their black or mixed-race neighbors. I wish the news media would report on towns and people such as these who without fanfare simply treat each other with genuine empathy and respect. Their way of life is worth emulation across the U.S.

 

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