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5349: Louisiana looks to Haiti to revive French language (fwd)
From: Yacine Khelladi <email@example.com>
Louisiana looks to Haiti to revive French language
By BRETT MARTEL
Associated Press writer
NEW ORLEANS -- Stephen Dominick, a Creole New Orleanian with caramel
brown skin, pores over the French love poems handwritten by his
great-grandfather more than a century ago.
Then he flips to the typed English translation his family had printed
when it began to archive the letters for future generations.
Raised in the French Quarter by the grandchildren of Haitian immigrants
and well versed in the rich history of his old port city, Dominick
regrets that his great-grandfather's passion has become a lost art in
both his family and community.
"Here's someone I probably look like or who looks like someone I love,
writing 150 years ago about some of the same hopes, dreams and feelings
I have, so I think it's important to read it in his native language,"
said Dominick, 31, who wasn't raised speaking French but has since
begun to study it.
French remains prevalent on street signs, monuments and menus in New
Orleans. But the language is seldom spoken any more by locals, many of
whom are mixed-race or black Creoles whose ancestors were well-versed in
These are the very people Louisiana's top French-language official had
in mind as he quietly refocused his agency's efforts during the past
David Cheramie, director of the Council for the Development of French
in Louisiana, once devoted virtually all of his agency's
teacher-recruiting resources to France, Belgium and Quebec. But lately
he has been
spending time with educators in Haiti and several other French-speaking
Caribbean and African countries.
At worst, he sees a chance to improve diversity among the state's
At best, he hopes the move will spark a resurgence in interest in
French among the state's significant black population and strengthen
economic ties to developing countries -- such as Haiti and Senegal.
"Part of the idea is to bring in people who are a closer fit with our
culture," Cheramie said. "A lot of our students are of African-American
origin, and we try to show them that, even though a majority of
French-speakers are white, the Creole element here is very strong."
Cheramie's agency, commonly called CODOFIL, was established by state
lawmakers in 1968, largely in reaction to a Life magazine article that
predicted that post-World War II homogenization of American culture
would wipe out French in Louisiana by the turn of the century.
CODOFIL has succeeded somewhat in reinstilling French pride and
boosting elementary school enrollment in French, but mostly among white
Cajun populations in the Lafayette area.
The state's Creole population, centered in New Orleans about 200 miles
east, has become increasingly disconnected from its French-speaking
"In my community there is some jealousy that Cajuns get all credit for
Louisiana's French heritage when we had a French culture here that was
just as vibrant and sophisticated," Dominick said.
About a third of Louisiana's population is black. Many can trace their
roots to those who came here in the early 1800s from French-controlled
St. Domingue, which, following a bloody revolution, became Haiti.
Most who fled the revolution went first to Cuba but were kicked out
because of friction between France and Spain during the heyday of French
About 9,000 Haitians, some white but most black or mixed, came to New
Orleans around 1809, says Augusta Elmwood, a genealogist who specializes
in tracing ancestry to St. Domingue.
"New Orleans was still a pretty small city back then, and they about
doubled the size," Elmwood said. Others, like Dominick's
great-great-grandfather, came directly from Haiti after the revolution.