Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Businesses preserve Cajun culture with their contributions.

Preserving Cajun Culture: The Fight to Save Louisiana’s Traditional Businesses

When Alex Cook stumbled upon a flyer for a local juke joint, he was taken aback by his unfamiliarity with a spot just minutes away from his Baton Rouge home. This discovery ignited a passion within Cook, a member of the Baton Rouge music scene, leading him to write the 2012 book, “Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana’s Juke Joints, Honkey-Tonks, and Dancehalls.” Little did he know that what started as a travel guide would eventually become a poignant testament to the vanishing Cajun businesses that have closed their doors.

Over the years, approximately 40% of the Cajun businesses that Cook featured in his guide have shut down. This decline in family-owned establishments has sparked concern among Cajun culture enthusiasts, who fear that the fading presence of these businesses will lead to the erosion of their unique cultural heritage. As Louisiana’s commercial preservation of Cajun culture becomes increasingly scarce, so too does the state’s distinctive culinary and cultural identity.

To prevent this loss, active efforts must be made to preserve and celebrate Cajun culture. Herman Fuselier, executive director of the St. Landry Parish Tourism Commission, emphasizes that Louisiana should not strive to mirror other states but rather highlight its own offerings. He asserts, “We don’t have mountains and beaches and things like other places, but we have food, music, culture, and festivals like no one else has. That’s our bread and butter. We live it in a lot of ways, too.”

The closures of these beloved Cajun establishments have not solely been driven by economic factors; they have also been influenced by events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters, and generational turnovers. Angelle’s Whiskey River Landing, a vibrant Henderson dancehall that served as a hub for Cajun music, closed its doors in 2018 citing “monumental tragedies.” Although new owners announced plans for its return in 2022, a devastating fire in January 2023 destroyed the building. Stories of lost traditions echo throughout south Louisiana, from the shuttering of Cafe des Amis restaurant in Breaux Bridge to The Rainbow Inn dancehall in Pierre Part.

The closure of these landmark establishments leaves a void in the local community and prompts collective mourning. Hackett’s Cajun Kitchen, which closed in 2020 due to strain from the pandemic, is a prime example. Its Facebook page stands as a poignant memorial, with customers expressing their hopes for a return. One customer remarked, “If somebody brought it back, they’d make some decent money. I can’t be the only one who misses it.” The loss of Sunday nights at Whiskey River Landing and Hackett’s plate lunches represents just a fraction of the traditions that have vanished over the past five years.

Fortunately, amidst the closures, there are glimmers of hope. Louisiana businesses that thrive on a national level demonstrate the potential for preserving cultural aspects. The Best Stop, originally a small supermarket founded in 1986, succeeded in surviving a declining economy and has transformed into a multi-generational franchise. Damon Cormier from Best Stop emphasizes the importance of sharing Louisiana culture, stating, “If you hide it, it’ll go away. If the people that knew how to make boudin wouldn’t have shared the recipe or would have just made it at their house, it wouldn’t help grow the culture.” This successful family tradition serves as a testament to how Cajun culture can be preserved and spread through commercial success.

Similarly, Pointe Coupee Pecan, a business rooted in the praline-making expertise of a grandmother, showcases how sharing tradition can lead to expansion. Myles Bergeron, the second generation at Pointe Coupee Pecan, explains how their family’s story began with his father’s admiration for his grandmother’s pralines, which inspired him to plant pecan trees. Today, Pointe Coupee Pecan ships their variety of pecans and pecan products throughout the United States, promoting their Louisiana culture.

As these businesses expand, concerns arise regarding the potential dilution of authentic tradition. However, Bergeron perceives their growth as an opportunity to showcase Louisiana culture to people across the country. He remarks, “The way we’re growing now, it allows us to showcase that to people in other states all over the country. They can get a taste of it.” Authenticity remains a vital aspect of preserving Cajun culture, from the production methods to the atmosphere of a company. This commitment to authenticity draws people to partake in Cajun culture and supports its commercial success.

Cajun culture’s ability to endure is a testament to its resilience. When French Acadians were forced out of Canada by British soldiers, they found refuge in Louisiana, becoming the Cajuns. According to Barry Jean Ancelet, a retired professor of Louisiana French folklore, Cajun culture is not disappearing but rather continuously evolving. He metaphorically compares Cajun culture to a person who, just as they are about to be declared dead, sits up and asks for another beer. The spirit of Cajun culture remains alive and vibrant.

While closures of Cajun businesses may mark the end of an era, they also signify the beginning of a new chapter. Alex Cook, the author of “Louisiana Saturday Night,” stresses the importance of supporting small businesses to sustain their presence. He affirms, “A lot of these places are marginal to begin with. The odds aren’t really with them, but it’s up to people to go.” Engaging with local businesses and actively participating in Cajun culture through festivals and live music events are essential to its preservation.

Adeline Miller, a member of the young Cajun band Amis du Teche, believes that preserving Cajun culture requires a commitment from the community. Miller, who began playing the fiddle at the age of five, emphasizes that celebrating Cajun culture is a choice. She encourages individuals to attend festivals, engage with the community, and learn the traditional dances. Miller sees Cajun culture as something that is deeply ingrained in one’s essence and longs to spread and celebrate it.

As Louisiana grapples with the decline of its traditional businesses, there remains hope in the efforts made to preserve Cajun culture. Louisiana must continue to honor its unique heritage, not just as a marketable product, but as a living, breathing way of life. By supporting local businesses and actively participating in cultural events, Louisianans can ensure that Cajun culture remains a vibrant part of the state’s identity. As Barry Jean Ancelet affirms, “We’re not done yet.”

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About Astrid Jensen

Introducing Astrid Jensen, an expert blogger with an insatiable appetite for culture, art and design! With a keen eye for detail, she explores the intricacies of food culture and literature, providing unique perspectives that will broaden your horizons. Through her captivating writings, Astrid offers a fresh take on the world of art and design, leaving you inspired and eager to discover more. Join her on this journey of discovery and let your creativity soar!

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